A major Morinville pet food company unveiled a new multi-million dollar processing facility in Acheson last Thursday, further expanding its investment in the province.
Starting operations two weeks ago, Champion Petfoods celebrated its new state-of-the-art NorthStar kitchen with provincial ministers and municipal leaders on Jan. 23.
The new 421,000 sq. ft. facility, spanning 75 acres, is located three kilometres west of Edmonton off Hwy. 60, and is expected to employ more than 200 Albertans.
Mayor of Morinville Barry Turner said he was "extremely excited" to see the company expand within the Edmonton metropolitian region, calling Champion Petfoods one of the largest employers in the community.
"Certainly Morinville, Edmonton and all the other communities around are going to realize direct and indirect benefits from Champion being here," Turner said.
Champion Petfoods CEO Blaine McPeak said the new facility will allow the pet food manufacturer to meet increased demands, particularly in international markets. The Acheson facility was a quick build-out, taking two years to complete with 375 construction jobs on-site at the peak of construction.
“We needed to move quickly because we were tapped out on capacity,” he said. “We have very, very strong growth throughout Asia, very strong growth throughout Europe. That’s the primary export that we do out of this particular kitchen.”
Currently, Champion Petfoods sells product in more than 100 countries, primarily to the United States.
"As an industry leader and award winning innovator, Champion Petfoods is a company that continues to put Alberta on the map, locally, nationally, and internationally," said Tanya Fir, minister of economic development, trade and tourism. "The NorthStar kitchen we are celebrating today is the most technologically advanced pet food kitchen in Canada."
With meat, grain and other ingredients sourced from Alberta suppliers, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen said he was pleased to see the new facility open.
“Too much I think people view agriculture and the province of Alberta as hewers of wood and drawers of water," he said. "But to actually see further value-added done here in the province of Alberta is incredible."
The new NorthStar kitchen includes three dry food production lines and a full on-site distribution warehouse and logistics centre. Both the kitchen and equipment are engineered and designed for "effective cleaning to meet world class food safety standards," according to a company press release.
Last year, Champion’s Acana and Orijen brands, along with 14 other pet food brands, were implicated in a study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for manufacturing dog foods linked to canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a heart condition in dogs.
READ MORE: Champion defends dog food
“We understand the concern that pet owners have about these reports: the illnesses can be severe, even fatal, and many cases report eating “grain-free” labelled pet food,” reads an update posted by the FDA in June. “The FDA is using a range of science-based investigative tools as it strives to learn more about this emergence of DCM and its potential link to certain diets or ingredients.”
McPeak said there isn’t a lot to say about the investigation's current status, but the company is “incredibly happy to open this facility today.”
Right spot to expand
When asked why the company decided to expand its operations in Parkland County, McPeak said the location’s access to open space and transport routes were factors in the decision, along with its close proximity to 14 company suppliers.
“We had a very, very co-operative government as well,” he said.
Headquartered in Edmonton, the new location is Champion Petfoods' second manufacturing facility in Alberta, with the other located in Morinville.
“We actually have people in transition between the two (facilities),” McPeak said. While there’s no definitive future plans for the Morinville site, McPeak said it still “plays an incredibly important role” in the company’s operations.
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Parkland County Mayor Rod Shaigec welcomed the new facility, hailing it as a new industry for the municipality that struggled with tax revenue losses from federal and provincial phase-outs of coal-fired electricity plants, including TransAlta’s Sundance plant in the county.
“That was a wake-up call,” he said, noting the municipality has since streamlined its processes to attract new businesses. “This type of facility is going to bring significant tax revenues for us to offset some of those losses.”
While noting the county’s commitment to ensure Champion’s “ongoing success” to a room of company executives and provincial ministers, the mayor also touched on the need for a new overpass spanning the CN Rail level crossing on Hwy. 60.
“It’s not uncommon for that level crossing to be blocked four times a day and sometimes as long as 30 minutes,” Shaigec said.
With 40 to 50 rail cars passing through per day, an overpass is needed to quickly move product in and out of the new plant, Shaigec said. It would also allow for better access for emergency crews should an incident arise.