Manitoba”s dairy industry will be getting a big shot in the arm after an Ontario-based dairy co-operative and a B.C. firm announced plans to convert a former Winnipeg egg processing plant into a new dairy processing facility.
Mississauga-based Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Ltd. and Abbotsford, B.C.-based Vitalus Nutrition Inc. plan to spend an undisclosed sum of money over the next year converting a 33,000-square-foot plant at 70 Irene St. into a modern milk processing facility.
The new facility, which should be fully operational early next fall, will produce cream for the Manitoba market, butter for the Canadian market and dry dairy ingredients — things like milk protein concentrate — for domestic and international markets.
At the tenant”s request, Vitalus president Philip Vanderpol declined to release the name of the food processing company that had been leasing the building from Vitalus. He said Vitalus has owned the building since the late 1990s, and has leased it to several different egg processing operations over the years.
He added the current tenant said it will be consolidating its operations at another processing plant in Manitoba.
Industry sources said the most recent tenant was MFI Food Canada, which Ontario-based Burnbrae Farms Ltd. acquired earlier this year from Minnesota-based Michael Foods. Burnbrae has another egg processing plant at 500 Pandora Ave., but a spokesperson for the company could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
Vanderpol described the creation of a new dairy processing plant — which he said will be one of the largest in the province — as a “win-win” situation.
Not only do Vitalus and Gay Lea get to expand their processing operations in Canada — Vitalus currently has one other dairy processing facility in Abbotsford, while Gay Lea has eight of them in Ontario — but Manitoba”s milk producers also get to expand their production.
“I think the benefits of this go much beyond just a new processing plan. They go all the way back to the farm and feed and everything else,” he added.
He also said the new plant will be creating a “substantial” number of new skilled-labour jobs, including manufacturing-equipment operator.
“It should have a significant economic impact for the province,” he added.
Dairy Farmers of Manitoba chairman David Wiens confirmed the announcement is good news for the province”s approximately 280 dairy producers.
Wiens said the demand for dairy products — things like butter, cheese and yogurt — is growing in Canada, but Manitoba”s dairy farmers have been unable to take full advantage of that growth because of insufficient milk-processing capacity here.
He said Manitoba is producing about six per cent less milk than it”s allowed under industry regulations because the processors here already have all the milk they can handle. However, the new Vitalus/Gay Lea plant will be able to take all of the extra milk local farmers can produce, he added — and then some.
“This is going to really turn things around for the dairy industry in Manitoba. We certainly have our work cut out for us, but our dairy producers are up to the challenge.”
Vanderpol confirmed the new plant will be working closely with Manitoba dairy farmers.
“As they grow their supply, we will grow our processing capacity to match,” he said.
He said the joint-venture partners are still determining what the processing capacity of the new plant will be once it”s fully operational, but there will be extra room to expand production if the demand for its products grows.
He noted the Winnipeg plant and Vitalus”s B.C. plant will be the only two in Canada producing the kind of specialty dry ingredients used to make protein drinks and other nutritional-based products.
Gay Lea president and CEO Mike Barrett said the joint venture with Vitalus also gives the farmer-owned co-operative an opportunity to expand its membership beyond Ontario, where it currently has about 1,300 members.
He said Manitoba farmers won”t have to join the co-operative in order to sell their milk to the new plant. But if they do, they”ll not not only become joint owners of all of the co-op”s processing plants, they”ll also get to share in its profits.
He noted the co-operative movement has had a strong following in Manitoba, “so this is very exciting for us.”
Read more by Murray McNeill.
HERE is a list of the other dairy processors in Manitoba:
Bothwell Cheese Inc.
Notre Dame Creamery
Santorini Dairies Inc.
Stoney Brook Creamery
— source: Dairy farmers of Manitoba