Food processors ramp up Cornwall operations

Leclerc
Leclerc’s 160,000-square-foot Cornwall facility.

Several food processors have invested millions of dollars into their Cornwall operations in recent years, capitalizing on the proximity to major urban markets and propelling the industry into one of the city’s largest employers.

Among the major players are Leclerc, maker of the well-known Celebration line of cookies as well as snack bars. The Quebec-based firm recently doubled the capacity of its 160,000-square-foot Cornwall facility with the installation of a new production line, according to the city.

The investment means Leclerc will be able to produce some 2,200 bars every minute at its Cornwall plant, where it employs 60 staff and is looking to continue hiring.

“Our location is ideal for food processing,” says Bob Peters, division manager of economic development at the City of Cornwall. “Both Cornwall and Eastern Ontario are in that triangle of three of central Canada’s largest metropolitan areas – Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa – so as a food processor you’re within a region that allows you quick and easy access to deliver your products to consumers.”

Competitive advantage

Ontario’s food and beverage manufacturing sector ranks as the third-largest in North America, according to the province, generating revenues of more than $35 billion – a healthy proportion of which comes from Eastern Ontario, which has several competitive advantages.

A 2016 study, published by Ontario East Economic Development, found that the region had the lowest operating costs for food and beverage manufacturers among 24 North American regions. Eastern Ontario also offers manufacturers several other advantages, according to the report, including secure and stable sources of water, a skilled workforce and easy access to markets in North America and beyond.

Indeed, Cornwall’s geography played a major role in Olymel’s decision to set up shop in Cornwall in 2000, according to company spokesperson Richard Vigneault.

Olymel
An employee at Olymel’s Cornwall facility, which specializes in bacon products, photographed prior to the onset of the pandemic.

The pork and poultry processor’s Cornwall facility specializes in fresh sliced bacon as well as pre-cooked bacon products for a variety of markets, including consumer retail as well as hotels and restaurants. It employs some 564 people, or about four per cent of the company’s Canadian workforce.

The company spent approximately $40 million to expand its Cornwall facility in 2013 and has continued to invest in its Eastern Ontario operations, including the installation of a high-definition vision system for automatic bacon sorting – a project that was fully designed and implemented by the Olymel Cornwall team, according to the city.

New slicers were slated to be installed in 2020 that would increase production by 25 per cent.

From Peters’ vantage point, there are no signs that the investments in food processing are set to slow down locally.

“It’s been strong, significant growth – not just in Cornwall but in Eastern Ontario,” Peters says. “So we’ve welcomed additional food processors to the region and we’re continuing to do so. And those that we have welcomed are expanding.”