B.C. beef plant gets to work

The beef plant that is a key part of plans to establish a branded British Columbia beef program has been processing about 15 head per week in recent weeks to assess operations and gear up for a full launch anticipated later this year, possibly as early as March.

B.C. Beef Producers (BCBP), a producer-owned corporation, has a three-year lease on a meat plant in Westwold, B.C., about one hour east of Kamloops.

Through online meetings organized this month by the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association, BCBP is informing producers about the branded beef concept and encouraging purchase of hook space in the plant at $175 per hook.

That fee entitles producers to supply one animal annually to the plant and the per hook fee will rise to $200 Feb. 1.

The branded beef program will market beef from cattle born, raised and processed in B.C., beginning with cull beef and dairy cows.

“We’ve done what I would call an assessment start-up,” said BCCA general manager Kevin Boon. “We did that pre-Christmas. We’re right now assessing where we go for a hard start-up. We’re operational but we’re not operating yet in developing the brand itself until we have the actual volumes that we need coming through.”

The plant has the capacity to slaughter 50 head per day. Steady volume will be needed if BCBP expects to market B.C.-branded product at retail.

Mark Ishoy, manager of the plant, said the Overwaitea grocery chain, which operates Save-On-Foods and PriceSmart, has expressed interest in carrying B.C. branded beef but will require an assured, steady supply.

“To do that we obviously need some volume,” Ishoy told those on a Jan. 6 online informational meeting. He also said local processors including Inner-City Packers, now owned by Gordon Food Service, are interested in selling the branded product, as are local butcher shops. Asian markets around Vancouver are potential customers for organ meats and byproducts.

Boon emphasized that the federally certified plant is only the vehicle that will allow a more economical and speedy launch of the branded beef program. It is intended to provide B.C. cattle producers with a gate-to-plate strategy.

The plant provides a closer processor, compared to shipping cattle to federally inspected plants in Alberta. That will reduce stress on the animals, lower transport costs, provide consumers with a fresher product and provide cattle producers with carcass data.

Further information meetings are planned and Boon said producers have been receptive to the concept.

“It’s going well. It seems so simple when you’ve got it all on paper and you’re putting it together and everything, and then when the tires hit the road, there’s a lot of little things in there that you’ve got to do. But it’s going well.”

Some producers are hesitant because they invested and lost money in the ill-fated Blue Mountain Packers project that was one of several born after the 2003 BSE crisis that didn’t survive.

“That’s part of the challenge,” said Boon. “But this really isn’t about the plant. The plant is the tool. It’s about developing a brand. It’s a new endeavour for a lot of guys.”

Once the brand is launched and BCBP’s operations assessed, it may consider building a larger plant or several smaller plants around the province, said Boon.

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