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Maple Leaf foods reported quarterly results on Wednesday.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Maple Leaf Foods Inc. says increased expenses tied to the COVID-19 pandemic will drain up to $20-million from its income statement in the second quarter as it struggles to cope with market shifts, public-health restrictions and plant shutdowns following infections at several sites.

The higher costs include extra spending on labour – including a weekly $80 bonus to hourly staff – personal protective equipment, sanitation and screening, the company said.

“Unfortunately, we have identified some cases of COVID-19 among front-line team members that work in our processing facilities,” chief executive Michael McCain said during a conference call with analysts Wednesday.

The infections required the company to suspend operations “at a small number of facilities over the past several weeks for as little as 24 hours to about a week,” he said.

More broadly, Mr. McCain cited “volatility” triggered by the crisis as demand migrated to retail owing to consumer “hoarding” and away from food service, where “dramatic declines” began in mid-March.

While Maple Leaf derives about three-quarters of its business from retail, the shift toward it has nonetheless been “highly disruptive” as the company grapples with “insufficient retail capacity” to produce some products, Mr. McCain said. The balance is now more lopsided, but sales through retail and food service have been “net neutral,” he said.

Among the most popular products for homebound Canadians and Americans are wieners, sausages and sliced meats, while deli meat sales have dipped with the shutdown of restaurants across the continent, Mr. McCain said. “Some categories like lunch kits tend to suffer with families at home.”

Despite continuing uncertainty, Maple Leaf maintained its earnings forecast for the year and said it expects its financial performance will be “largely unchanged.”

The food producer cited a hunger for pork in China and Japan as well as continued demand for plant-based protein, even as it contends with unstable pork and poultry commodity markets, potential plant closings down the line and continuing public-health measures.

Maple Leaf reported a first-quarter loss of $3.7-million or three cents a share compared with a profit of $50.1-million or 41 cents a share a year ago.

The loss came as it made strategic investments in plant protein and saw a $36.7-million impact to earnings from non-cash fair value changes in biological assets and derivative contracts driven by depressed market prices for hogs, the company said.

On an adjusted basis, operating earnings amounted to $45.1-million or 21 cents a share for the quarter ended March 31, up from $42.1-million or 20 cents a share in the same quarter a year earlier. Analysts had expected adjusted earnings of 16 cents a share, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

Sales in the first three months of 2020 totalled $1.02-billion, up from $907.1-million in the first quarter of 2019.

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