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Maple Leaf Foods opens 640,000 sq. ft. poultry plant in south London, Ont.

Production at the new Maple Leaf Foods' London, Ont., facility began this week in the new state-of-the-art, 640,000-square-foot fresh poultry facility at 1577 Wilton Grove Rd., equalling approximately 11 football fields in size and costing a total of $772 million. Maple Leaf Foods

Maple Leaf Foods’ new poultry plant in south London, Ont., has officially opened its doors after four years of planning and development.

The “major boon” to the city’s agi-food sector began production this week in the new state-of-the-art, 640,000-square-foot fresh poultry facility at 1577 Wilton Grove Rd., equalling approximately 11 football fields in size and costing a total of $772 million.

“This is very exciting times, both for Maple Leaf Foods and also for the city of London,” said Ben Brooks, Maple Leaf Foods senior vice-president and general manager of poultry. “We started production Monday morning, on time (and) on schedule and things are going well. I would characterize it as completely on track.”

More than 400 people now work at the London site, which will employ approximately 1,600 people once the plant is operating at full capacity.

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Brooks emphasized that there’s still plenty of hiring to do before production starts to truly ramp up.

“We needed just over 400 to get started and we met that target, which is a really good mix of some of our experienced employees (who) came over from our St. Mary’s poultry plant,” he said. “Over the next year or so when we move to full capacity, which will take us a full year to do that, we’ll have the better part of 1,600 people on site here.”

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Brooks added that the plant is currently running at 10 per cent capacity, operating on one line on one shift out of the two that will soon be available.

According to officials, once at full capacity around the end of 2023, the company expects the London plant to generate approximately $100 million annually of “incremental Adjusted EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization) on a run-rate basis.”

“Our London plant is one of the world’s largest and most technologically advanced poultry processing facilities and shows how Maple Leaf Foods can serve growing markets and maintain its strong commitment to sustainability leadership,” Michael H. McCain, chief executive officer, said in a statement.

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The project, largely funded by the company, also initially received $34.5 million from the province, $20 million from the federal government and $8 million from an AgriInnovate Fund loan in 2018.

Prior to the official opening of the site, Brooks said their development teams “sourced across Europe and the U.S. to find the very best technology” that would fit the products made in the plant.

“The animal welfare handling system that we have in place is top-notch,” he shared as an example. “We take the health and care of the animal into account from the very beginning, including two to three hours of rest time in a climate-controlled environment.

“Maple Leaf Food safety is so critical. We have invested heavily in food safety measures across the plant,” Brooks continued. “We were not building this plant just for a year, five years or 10 years. This is meant to be a legacy for many decades to come and I think Maple Leaf investing in the future of food in Canada, and specifically in the London market, is really exciting for everyone.”

Following delays in construction and production due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the plant was originally scheduled to open in 2021, Brooks said the work environment so far has been nothing but positive.

“I think some of those things we did early on in the design of the facility are really starting to pay off, and we’ve got an amazing team,” he said.

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Brooks added that their next job fair will be happening on Jan. 19, 2023 at the Lamplighter. More information can be found on the Maple Leaf Foods website.

— with files from Global News’ Andrew Graham and Matthew Trevithick.

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