In the eyes of many Canadians, the name Maple Lodge Farms is synonymous with chicken. Over its 60-year history, the Brampton, Ontario-headquartered company has become the country’s largest chicken processor by making products that more than meet the needs of retailers and consumers.
Maple Lodge Farms’ major customers include national and regional retailers, foodservice companies and restaurant chains including KFC and Swiss Chalet. The company also provides co-packing and private label processing services to other brands including Yorkshire Farms, a Canadian organic brand. All of the company’s customers have come to expect high-quality and innovative products backed by exemplary customer service and delivery standards.
“When we say we’re going to do something, we do it,” Vice President of Brand Development Bruce McCullagh says. “We are reliable, dependable and consistent, and all of our products meet high safety and quality standards.”
Maple Lodge Farms provides fresh chicken products to the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI and Newfoundland, and produces frozen chicken products and further-processed chicken products such as wieners, bacon and pre-packaged deli meats that are sold across Canada. Products are also exported to more than 30 countries.
The company holds a market-dominant position with most of the products it makes, and was the first to offer products that are now common in the poultry marketplace such as chicken wieners and chicken bacon.
“From a consumer perspective, we were the first in the chicken format to introduce a number of innovations to the market,” McCullagh says. “We gave the consumer chicken options for traditional meat and pork products and continue to innovate.” The company was also the first chicken processor in Canada to offer Halal options for the majority of its products and is celebrating 25 years as the market leader in Halal chicken products.
Ahead of the Trends
New and innovative products remain a high priority for the company. Maple Lodge Farms in 2014 introduced Fresh From The Farm, a premium chicken line available in Ontario that includes a range of fresh chicken products including whole chickens as well as chicken breasts, thighs and drumsticks. The birds processed for the line are raised in Ontario, air chilled and grain-fed. No hormones are used on the chickens, Brand Manager Laurie Rodrigues notes.
Fresh From The Farm packaging features a removable sleeve rather than a sticker, which allows consumers a to take a closer look at the cut and quality of the chicken, she adds. The Fresh From the Farm line earned a “Best New Product” award in the fresh packaged chicken category in the 2015 BrandSpark Canadian Shopper Study. More than 65,000 Canadian consumers participated in the study, which offers insights into national shopping habits for everyday consumer packaged goods.
The company later this year will re-launch its May Family Farms deli meat line, initially introduced in 2011, as Naturally From The Farm. The line will offer flavors including Cajun Jambalaya and Black Pepper and Garlic that will be achieved by the company’s use of all-natural ingredients. “Our consumers have the need for different flavor profiles, and this line will offer a number of unique flavors,” McCullagh says.
The Naturally From the Farm and Fresh From the Farm lines reflect Maple Lodge Farms’ ability to keep abreast of industry trends such as the demand for locally raised, grain-fed products. Future plans in this regard include potentially introducing antibiotic-free products. McCullagh says the company considers the use of antibiotics as the “hottest topic in the industry today.”
Maple Lodge Farms operates a primary and further processing facility in Brampton, Ontario; a primary processing facility in St. Francois, New Brunswick; a further processing plant in Mississauga, Ontario; and is partnered in a joint venture operating a primary processing plant in Berwick, Nova Scotia. The company also operates three hatcheries in Ontario.
By combining hatcheries and processing facilities, the company is able to closely monitor and control the quality and safety of its products. “The consistent quality and flavor of our products is what truly distinguishes us from our peers,” McCullagh notes.
Maple Lodge Farms enforces stringent sanitation, food quality control and safety management standards in all of its facilities. “Good environmental controls and quality parameters all lead to our having a higher processing efficiency and ultimately better customer satisfaction,” McCullagh notes.
The company’s food safety programs far exceed regulatory requirements. Maple Lodge Farms has been Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) certified since 1998 and British Retail Consortium (BRC) certified since 2012. “These certifications are recognized worldwide and are considered synonymous with the highest standards in food safety,” the company says. “By strictly utilizing the HACCP safety system, BRC Global Food Safety Standard, and implementing good manufacturing practices, Maple Lodge Farms is able to provide customers with the assurance that our products are of high quality, safe and nutritious.”
From the Egg Up
For Maple Lodge Farms, quality products all start with the egg. The company purchases fertile eggs from more than 40 independent, family owned producers in Ontario. These eggs are then incubated for 21 days in one of the company’s hatcheries.
Chicks are transported to independent farmers for raising. “Our farming partners work with us to ensure we get a chicken that is wholesome and arrives on time in the right size specification,” McCullagh says. “This is the key to our delivery of a top-quality product.”
Chickens roam freely on floors covered with soft, dry bedding, and are given clean water and feed through feed systems and water lines that are checked daily, the company says.
Farmers pay constant attention to the health and feeding of chickens. Maple Lodge Farms farmers follow the “Safe, Safer, Safest” food safety program, which includes audited on-farm practices and recognition by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Maple Lodge Farms also strictly adheres to the Codes of Practice for the Care and Handling of Poultry, a series of strict industry guidelines developed by farm groups, animal welfare groups, veterinarians, animal scientists, federal and provincial governments, related agricultural sectors and others. The company works with organizations including the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Chicken Farmers of Canada (CFC) and Canadian Agri-Food Research Council (CARC) to ensure its ongoing adherence to these guidelines.
The company developed a transportation and loading system it says improves the conditions under which chickens are handled during the moving process. This involved retrofitting the receiving area of its facility, investing in new trailers, and designing and manufacturing new “dollies” to transport chickens.
In addition to processing and hatching operations, Maple Lodge Farms also oversees the delivery of its products. The company’s branded trucks are leased from Ryder.
Maple Lodge Farms’ traditions of quality and keeping its farming operations local extend back to 1834, when the May family arrived in Norval, Ontario. In the decades that followed, further generations of the family farmed and raised livestock on the farm in Norval, which grew along with the family.
During the Great Depression, Lawrence May started selling eggs door-to-door from the back of his truck to make extra money. May’s sons, Jack and Bob, would join their father on these trips, and years later began growing broiler chickens. Jack and Bob May eventually added a cooler to their father’s truck and started offering fresh chickens direct from the family farm.
The company was formally established as Maple Lodge Farms Ltd. in 1955, and is now in its fourth generation of family ownership. “We’ve survived for 60 years in an environment where companies are regularly cannibalized or bought out,” McCullagh says.
The May family remains active in the business and can regularly be seen in the Brampton processing facility. “We know from our consumers that being family owned is a competitive advantage for us, because to them, being family owned means having high-quality products,” Rodrigues says. “Everything we do here is grounded on those family values, from our brand communication to the organizations we support.”
Maple Lodge Farms supports a number of community youth sports programs as well as food drives through its Maple Lodge Farms Foundation. In addition, the company also hosts an annual golf tournament benefiting community charities across Canada, which has helped the foundation raise $1 million to date.
“As a family owned and operated company, Maple Lodge Farms takes pride in actively supporting our surrounding communities that have helped us grow throughout the years,” the company notes.
To honor the passing of Lawrence May at the age of 99 in 1998, the company established the Maple Lodge Farms Foundation. Funds donated by the company and others to the foundation are used to “provide the advancement of education, the community and scientific research,” the company says.
Maple Lodge Farms’ community involvement and family oriented culture are high points of pride for McCullagh. “I’m proud of how the company handles itself not just externally with customers, but internally as well,” he says. “This is a company that challenges itself to constantly be better while also having fun – people genuinely enjoy working here but still have a serious goal in mind.”