Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

T.O. firm rescues goose processor

Plans to modernize facility in Interlake

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A white knight has ridden to the rescue of the largely dormant Northern Goose Processors plant in Teulon.

Feather Industries (Canada) Ltd., a family-owned Toronto firm that processes goose and duck down and feathers and sells them to customers around the world, has purchased the Interlake plant for an undisclosed sum.

Feather Industries president and CEO Bryan Pryde said the company plans to spend the next nine or 10 months refurbishing and modernizing the facility. The plant hasn't processed geese in more than 31/2 years, although it has continued to sporadically process feathers and down purchased from outside suppliers.

That should mean 80 to 100 new seasonal jobs for Teulon and neighbouring communities by next fall, Pryde said, with the chance of a lot more jobs down the road as production ramps up.

The spokesman for a local Hutterite colony said it could also lead to a revival of commercial goose production in Manitoba.

He said about eight Hutterite colonies were raising geese on a commercial basis before Northern Goose halted its processing operations. Since then, the number has dwindled to only two, who kept things going by exporting their geese to the continent's only other goose-processing plant -- Schiltz Foods, Inc., of Sisseton, S.D.

"But they all could restart overnight," he said of the other six colonies.

Pryde said Feather Industries plans to resume processing next September, when the 2013 flocks of domestically grown geese will be ready for market. As was the case under former owner Don Salkeld, the Teulon plant initially will only process geese from September to November -- probably 80,000 to 100,000 in the first year.

He said the company hopes to buy geese from local Hutterite colonies and export some of the meat to Europe and Asia.

Once the goose-processing season is over, staffing will be pared back to just a handful of workers who will be employed mainly in the feather- and down-processing side of the operation. Because it's a highly automated process, only a few people are needed to run it, Pryde said.

But he hopes in 2014, the Teulon plant also can begin processing a type of Chinese goose being produced in Ontario that matures earlier in the year. That would enable the Teulon plant to process geese for six or eight months of the year, instead of three.

"And one day, I'd like to see the plant operating 12 months of the year," he said, adding the company plans to spend between $1.5 million to $2 million over the next three years on upgrading and expanding the facility.

An eight-year legal battle with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency severely disrupted the plant's export business. And while it eventually won the case, by then the operation was struggling and Salkeld was exhausted. So in 2009 he put the business up for sale.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 3, 2012 B8

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