The world’s leading French fry maker is making the largest investment in its history, with McCain Foods announcing plans on Monday for a $600-million expansion of its potato processing facility in southern Alberta, creating 260 new jobs.
McCain, maker of one in four fries eaten each day around the world, is doubling the size of its plant in the town of Coaldale, near Lethbridge.
“This investment is a sign of our confidence in the future of food production in our home country,” said Max Koeune, chief executive officer of New Brunswick-based McCain.
McCain operates in 160 countries and Mr. Koeune said: “The stability of Canada, in contrast to the geopolitical uncertainty in many parts of the world, is important to us when we think about the growth of our business.”
Expanding in Alberta encourages farmers to devote additional land to growing potatoes, building a stronger agriculture industry in the province, Mr. Koeune said. Demand for French fries traditionally grows at 2 per cent to 3 per cent annually. McCain’s sales to institutional customers, such as restaurants, and shoppers buying frozen food in grocery stores are rising at a slightly faster pace, Mr. Koeune said, as the company wins market share by successfully competing on product innovation.
Family-controlled McCain has 51 production facilities around the world, almost all of which are located in rural communities, and more than 20,000 employees. Over the past five years, McCain spent $157-millon expanding its two facilities in New Brunswick, $100-million building its first plant in Brazil, $200-million to expand in Idaho and $300-million building out a facility in Washington State.
“While we have grown globally, we are thrilled to be able to make our largest investment at home, in support of our employees and farmers,” Scott McCain, chair of McCain Foods, said in an e-mail. “Our family is proud of our Canadian roots and excited about the future of agriculture in Canada.”
The majority of French fries produced in Coaldale will be sold in North America, with a minority of future production exported to Asian and Latin American markets.
Alberta farmers dedicate 68,000 acres to growing potatoes, making the province the third-largest producer of the crop, behind Prince Edward Island at 85,000 acres and Manitoba at 79,000 acres. McCain has two facilities in both New Brunswick and Manitoba. The company closed a PEI processing centre in 2014, shifting the work to its New Brunswick operations.
Over the past five years, Alberta farmers increased the amount of land dedicated to potatoes meant for French fries by 29 per cent to 43,000 acres, or 63 per cent of the total crop, according to data from the Potato Growers of Alberta.
In a sign of consumer preference for frozen food, just 8 per cent of Alberta’s potato farmland is dedicated to growing fresh produce for grocery stores. Approximately 10 per cent of potato farming is devoted to making the raw material for chips.
McCain spent $94-million to build its Coaldale plant, which opened in 2000, and increased the facility’s capacity by 14 per cent in 2017. It employs 225 people. The renovations are scheduled to begin this year.
Expanding in Alberta gives McCain an opportunity to green its operations. The new plant will run on wind and solar power, and generate biogas to run boilers, cutting natural gas consumption. Mr. Koeune said the environmental initiatives will allow McCain to double the size of the facility without increasing its carbon emissions. “The work we are doing in Coaldale on sustainability will help us to hit our goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half, globally, while continuing to expand our business,” he said.
Founded 66 years ago by four brothers, McCain has grown from a regional producer of frozen French fries to one of the world’s largest food producers, with annual sales of $11-billion. In addition to fries, the company makes pizza, snacks and desserts under various brand names.
Mr. Koeune joined McCain 10 years ago as chief financial officer and was named CEO in 2017. He was previously head of business development at Paris-based dairy company Danone SA.
Alberta farms and ranches sold a total of $15.4-billion of agricultural products in 2020, the most recent year provincial government statistics are available. Cattle, wheat and canola were the largest sectors, each accounting for roughly a third of sales. In 2020, farmers in the province sold $272-million of potatoes.