Supplier of the Year: McCain Foods Canada

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On the banks of the Saint John River in New Brunswick sits the town of Florenceville — French fry capital of the world and home to the global headquarters of McCain Foods. Founded in 1957 by Wallace and Harrison McCain, along with their brothers Robert and Andrew, McCain Foods’ processing plant was able to process 1,500 lbs. of potato products every hour in its first year of production. With only 30 employees, in its first year it was able to gross approximately $150,000 in sales. Today, the company nets global sales in excess of $9 billion, employs more than 20,000 people in 51 production facilities on six continents and sells one-third of the world’s frozen French fries.

This year, the iconic Canadian company is celebrating its 60th anniversary. “For 60 years we’ve provided restaurant operators with potato products they can proudly serve to their customers,” says Jeff Veysey, vice-president of Foodservice Sales for McCain Foods Canada. “We deeply value the long-standing relationship we have with Canadian restaurant operators as well as our distributor partners.”

McCain’s business philosophy, he says, has never wavered. “Our goal is to support Canadian restaurant operators by bringing forward customized solutions developed by a committed team that’s always working with them in mind.”

To that end, the company has invested more than $1 billion globally in the last year to help meet the strong demand for McCain products. In Canada, this includes expansion of its Coaldale, Alta. facility, which employs more than 200 workers, and a $65-million capacity investment in Florenceville, N.B. — the birthplace of McCain.

“It’s been a big year for investment,” says Veysey. “This investment will bring additional production capacity to help continue to meet strong demand for the products in Canada and internationally.”

Florenceville is also home to McCain’s Potato Technology Centre, utilized by all McCain companies around the globe and provides ongoing research as part of the company’s extensive investment in knowledge and research into the Canadian restaurant landscape. “We take a leading position on both the potato and the appetizer side of our business for new-product development,” says Greg Boyer, director of Marketing. “It’s grounded in a solid understanding of the foodservice channel and we do tons of consumer and operator research.”

For example, recent research conducted by McCain shows 52 per cent of Canadians are eating more vegetables now than they did even a decade before. “What they’re looking for is something different — not just peas and carrots,” says Boyer. “We see tremendous growth in products such as cauliflower, so what we’ve done is take a look at [these] versatile vegetables, which are on trend, and determined how we could capitalize on those trends.” As a result, this year McCain launched its battered cauliflower bites to tap into that emerging trend. “We know operators are looking for something unique, differentiating and ownable, so we’re suggesting tossing them in their signature wing sauce. What that does is allows them to offer a vegetarian alternative to wings…they taste amazing and have a very low food cost.”

The Spicy Battered Pickle Fry, under the Anchor Brand, also launched for foodservice this year. The cornmeal, horseradish and mustard-battered treat can be paired with a Caesar drink or used on top of a Montreal smoked-meat sandwich.

Sometimes it isn’t about new products, but reimagining old favourites, says Boyer. “Consumer tastes are constantly changing and that’s an exciting challenge in the foodservice industry. It allows us to reposition our product line-up. We know taste preferences and eating patterns are cyclical and what we’re seeing right now is a big resurgence of Tater Tots. It’s a familiar comfort food that people sometimes forget about but then, when it’s on the menu, everyone wants it. We’re seeing restaurant chefs embracing that.”

The company’s innovation isn’t limited to its products — which require more than 6.5 million tonnes of potatoes every year. On the technology front, it recently redesigned its website. “We know operators are busy,” says Boyer. “We wanted to make sure they could find exactly what they needed in just two clicks. For example, if an operator was opening a sandwich shop and only had ovens, they can search for product lines optimized for baking in an oven.”

McCain Foods Canada’s products benefit from a strong network of more than 150 different farm families across the country. “They grow all of the potatoes we use in our products,” says Veysey. “We value our relationships with those growers and share different expertise with them. We have a strong agricultural team that works in partnership with them.” With five production facilities in Canada, Boyer says it’s important to work with farmers within the local communities. “We’re trying to keep our transportation and carbon footprint down and make sure we have access to fresh local produce to supply our plants.” Community is also at the core of the company’s charitable endeavors. “At McCain Foods Canada we strongly believe in making a difference, especially in the local communities in which we operate,” says Boyer. “With five locations across Canada, plus an office in Toronto, we have an opportunity to make a real difference — be it product donations, financial contributions or employee volunteer efforts.”

McCain has partnerships with Foodbanks Canada in the communities in which its employees live and work, supporting projects such as school-breakfast programs and an annual holiday toy and turkey drive at the Florenceville facility, which provides meals to those less fortunate in the community. “This was started in 2007 by 10 employees and they helped 148 families,” says Boyer. “Over time, that has grown to 30 volunteers [who have] helped approximately 400 families.”

The company also supports these initiative through its “Be Good. Do Good,” awards recognizing individual employees who have made significant contributions in the community. It’s all part of McCain Foods Canada’s commitment to its Canadian roots and the cornerstone on which the company culture has been built. “Every step of the way, McCain has remained as proudly Canadian as we were on day one,” says Veysey. “Our global headquarters/leadership remain in Canada so we’re proud of our Canadian roots and our investments in Canada. We continue to invest heavily in Canada.