Maple Leaf plans ways to cut costs, increase efficiency

The manager of Maple Leaf Foods’ hog processing plant in Brandon isn’t worried about the supply of hogs on the Prairies, despite the recent downturn in the industry.

“Most of the people that are in the hog industry, this is their life. This is their culture. They stick to it through thick and thin,” Leo Collins said following a speech last week to the Brandon Chamber of Commerce.

“Right now, we’re going through a phase where hog prices are starting to go up and feed prices are starting to go down. So farmers are starting to make money again.”

The challenging conditions in pork production have also affected Maple Leaf, Collins said, because the company operates its own barns.

“Maple Leaf owns 20 percent of their hog supply, so we’ve some skin in that game there as well,” he said.

Maple Leaf has no plans to increase its share of that supply, he added.

In his presentation to the Brandon Chamber of Commerce, Collins said Maple Leaf now processes 85,000 hogs per week in Brandon but would like to increase that number to 90,000 to further cut costs.

“We need to be competitive at a 97 cent Canadian dollar,” Collins said.

Producers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan now provide the plant with 85,000 hogs per week, he said.

The plant can handle only 90,000 animals per week, but Maple Leaf is hoping to become more efficient by processing larger animals.

“For us, it’s all about volumes at the plant. We can only run at X number of hogs per hour,” Collins said.

“So the larger the weight, the more volume we can produce at the plant. Right now, we’re producing about 1.5 million kilograms per day of finished product, and that’s based on about 86,000 hogs a week.”

Dan Kraft, director of manufacturing at Maple Leaf’s barn near Landmark, Man., said the company ships hogs that weigh around 120 kg.

“Right now we’re looking at 118 to 120 kg. Those are the live weights that are coming to the plant.”

He said those animals are approximately 28 weeks old.

“They’re about 19 days of age when they leave the sow barn, then there’s eight weeks in a nursery and about 17 weeks in a finishing barn.”

However, Kraft said the company hasn’t changed its practice of shipping heavier hogs to Brandon.

Becoming more cost efficient is part of Maple Leaf’s strategy to become more competitive in Asian markets such as Korea and Japan. Japanese customers take 13 percent of the total output from the Brandon plant and eight percent goes to South Korea, Collins said. However, he said the Brandon plant has an opportunity to sell more hog cuts to both countries.

“In Japan our goal is to double. And Korea would be more than that because we have smaller market share in Korea.”

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