As one of Canada’s largest food companies, we have a fundamental responsibility to our consumers to provide them with food choices that emphasize great quality, meet high food safety standards, and are appealing, nutritious and affordable.
Expanded our Naturals product line to more than 80 products
Continued to reduce sodium in our prepared meats products to meet Health Canada’s voluntary 2016 guidelines for sodium
Founding member of the Healthy Grains Institute, supporting a spectrum of consumer education initiatives
Established a standard food safety and quality performance tracking system for all Maple Leaf suppliers
Launch 15 new Naturals products to meet consumers’ growing demand
Further reduce sodium in our prepared meats products to meet Health Canada’s voluntary 2016 guidelines for sodium
Provide science-based research and information to consumers about the benefits of protein
Refresh our Food Safety Scorecard to nurture and sustain an industry-leading Food Safety culture
Food Safety and Quality
In 2008, a small number of prepared meats products made at our Toronto plant were linked to the death of 23 Canadians. It was a devastating tragedy that has driven us to invest significant focus and resources on becoming a global food safety leader. Millions of people consume our products every day and it is our unwavering commitment to make sure that they can enjoy our products with confidence.
More than 11,500 employees completed food safety training or programs in 2013.
Leadership and Oversight
Our goal is to establish Maple Leaf Foods as a global food safety leader. Our food safety strategy and programs are championed by our Food Safety Leadership Council, a cross-functional team led by the Chief Food Safety Officer, which includes quality assurance leaders and food safety teams on the shop floor at every plant. The Council is advised by an external Food Safety Advisory Council, comprising five industry experts from Canada, the U.S. and the U.K., which meets at least three times a year. Although approximately 380 people have formal responsibility for food safety at Maple Leaf, every employee is guided in their daily tasks by our food safety policies, principles and operating procedures and supported by online and on-floor education and training.
Global Food Safety Standards
We adhere to Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) benchmarked standards across the Company and all of our facilities are audited annually by an internal audit function and a third-party auditor, following the British Retail Consortium (BRC) standard. Due to an interpretation change in one of the BRC elements, our previously certified Port Perry facility was decertified. We are in the process of re-certifying the facility under a globally recognized food safety standard, which we expect to complete in the back half of 2014.
All companies that produce products for Maple Leaf must be GFSI certified and commit in writing to our safety and quality standards. In 2013, we had approximately 45 co-manufacturers for our products. All of them were GFSI certified.
We monitor the effectiveness of our efforts through aggressive testing of our products and manufacturing environment. In 2013, we conducted more than 100,400 tests to detect any bacteria or pathogens in our food processing facilities. This mirrors best practice testing protocols in North America and globally. Maple Leaf conducted five voluntary recalls and two product withdrawals in 2013. Undeclared ingredients was the most common reason for the recalls and withdrawals. In every case, Maple Leaf successfully reclaimed the products from the market.
In addition, we have active participation with GFSI globally and locally, with participation on the GFSI Technical Working Group and the GFSI North American Local Group advisory board. We have also been a Gold Sustaining Member of the International Association of Food Protection for the past five years, the leading food safety professional organization, as well as a Sustaining Partner of the American Meat Science Association, which has a mission to improve food safety through scientific advancements.
In addition to the rigour of our existing policies and procedures, several significant initiatives aimed at improving food safety were launched in 2013. One of the most important was the review of the 2009–2012 Food Safety Strategy. The analysis led to four key recommended changes:
Improvements in process management. While the processes inherent in our policies and procedures have been mapped, it is critical that ownership of those processes – governance – be well-established. Inherent in this governance is continuous improvement and accountability.
The inclusion of more elements related to on-farm livestock production such as vaccination programs, biosecurity protocols and animal care to ensure we are always adopting best practices.
The establishment of a standardized performance tracking system for all Maple Leaf suppliers, supporting more rigour in the identification and management of non-compliance. During 2013, we conducted a pilot project at Canada Bread to measure supplier performance and will use the insights from that project to develop a company-wide tracking system.
Tighter focus on competencies. During the year we developed a formal set of competencies for Food Safety and Quality Assurance (FSQA) managers and directors. These competencies describe the technical requirements of each job in significant detail and will be used to evaluate FSQA employee performance in 2014.
Approximately 100% of our fresh and prepared meats production volume was produced in facilities certified by independent third parties that follow the British Retail Consortium (BRC) standard.
Other initiatives concluded in 2013 were:
The implementation of a food safety scorecard during the full year 2013. Developed in 2012, the scorecard comprises a set of five metrics collected every month at every plant, allowing plant leadership and the Food Safety Leadership Council to monitor relative performance.
The announcement of the Maple Leaf Safety Promise Award, a program to acknowledge those manufacturing plants that achieve outstanding performance in food and employee safety.
A pilot project at four plants to simplify our HACCP systems.
Nutrition is one of the core pillars of our Product Development program, and every product either in market or in development is assessed for its nutritional profile and how it supports our goal to continuously improve the health benefits of our food.
In 2013, we launched a pilot for a revolutionary protein snack – Maple Leaf Natural Selections PROTINIS™. PROTINIS are a complete protein snack made with oven-roasted chicken and combinations of chicken and dried fruit. They are an excellent source of complete protein, which has all nine of the essential amino acids our bodies need to build muscles and antibodies. Incomplete protein is missing at least one of the nine essential amino acids. PROTINIS™ were launched nationally in February 2014 across all major and discount retail banners in Canada.
Since launching our Naturals line of prepared meats products, we have introduced more than 80 new products to Canadians that are made with simpler, more natural ingredients.
Natural, Simpler Ingredients
Within our protein business, we have three goals – leaner, lower in sodium and higher in protein. Since launching our Maple Leaf Naturals Selections® and Schneiders Country Naturals™ products, we have introduced more than 80 new products that are healthier and made with simpler, more natural ingredients. We plan to introduce 15 additional Naturals products in 2014. Sales of Maple Leaf Naturals Selections and Schneiders Country Naturals have grown to represent close to 15% of our total prepared meats sales, confirming growing consumer demand for products preserved with simpler ingredients such as lemon juice, sea salt and high quality meat.
Our journey toward less salt
Reducing or removing sodium from our prepared meats products remained a priority in 2013, although it is inherently challenging, given the important role of salt in protecting food safety. We have the ambitious goal to ensure that almost every new meat product that we launch will meet the voluntary sodium guidelines established by Health Canada to help Canadians achieve the average sodium intake goal of 2,300 mg per day by 2016.
We have the ambitious goal to ensure that almost every new meat product we launch will meet the voluntary sodium guidelines established by Health Canada to help Canadians achieve the average sodium intake goal of 2,300 mg per day by 2016.
Our support for better nutrition goes beyond our products. We support health and wellness programs such as Wellspring, which provides nutrition counselling to cancer patients and their caregivers; and the Trillium Health Centre, where the focus is on helping people with diabetes learn how to manage their disease through better nutrition. Maple Leaf was also a founding member of the Healthy Grains Institute, which has a mandate to provide Canadian consumers with factual and understandable information about the important role of whole grains in a balanced diet. In 2012, the Healthy Grains Institute achieved almost 25,000,000 media impressions and more than 60,000 visits to its website. It continued to build strong relations with dieticians, nutritionists and health organizations to engage consumers on the benefits of whole grains based on fact-based, proven science.
To advance the health benefits of the products that we make and to advance scientific research and industry knowledge of nutrition and food safety, we also support research at the University of Toronto, University of Guelph, University of Manitoba and St. Boniface Hospital, University of Alberta, the Food Allergen Resource and Research Program at the University of Nebraska, the International Association of Food Protection and the American Meat Science Association.
Nitrates and Nitrites in Cured Meats
You’d have to eat 120 slices of Natural Selections cured meats to equal the amount of nitrate in a single stalk of celery.
There is often confusion among consumers and health professionals about the potential health risk of nitrites in cured meats. Increasingly, new science is identifying the importance of these nitrites and the positive role they play in human health.
Nitrate and nitrite are naturally occurring molecules that are everywhere in our environment. Green leafy vegetables, beets and radishes contain the highest levels of nitrate. The nitrate in vegetables, cheese, cured meats and even our drinking water is naturally converted into nitrite and nitric oxide in our bodies, which has a critical role in cardiovascular function.
Nitrite is an essential ingredient in cured meat products. It is used as a preservative and an antibacterial agent; it also gives cured meats their characteristic colour and flavour. Nitrite minimizes waste by preventing spoilage and enhances food safety by blocking the growth of Clostridium botulinium and Listeria monocytogenes.
During the 1950s and 1960s, some epidemiological animal studies indicated the potential for nitrite to form carcinogenic compounds when heated to a high temperature.
Since these studies were performed, a wealth of new science and research has emerged that has questioned this linkage. From the 1980s to 2000s, the U.S. Food and Drug Agency and the U.S. National Toxicology Program, which is considered the gold standard in determining whether substances cause cancer, conducted numerous assessments and studies which consistently found that nitrite is safe at the levels consumed through the diet. In 2003, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization’s Expert Committee on Food Additives reviewed the scientific literature and concluded that the findings do not provide evidence that nitrite is carcinogenic to humans.
In addition, recent research by scientists at the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the University of Texas Health Science Center has revealed that nitrite actually has important health benefits and demonstrates that nitrites can:
Regulate blood pressure
Prevent injury from heart attack
Prevent brain damage following a stroke
Prevent pre-eclampsia in pregnant women
Promote wound healing
Promote successful organ transplantation
Treat sickle-cell anemia
Prevent stomach ulcers
In 2013, Maple Leaf continued to work with the Canadian Meat Council, scientists and medical professionals to advance consumer knowledge of nitrates and their role in metabolic function.
In the food industry, innovation is the engine of growth. We are continually transforming, innovating and renovating our product lines. Between 2010 and 2013, our pace of innovation tripled, catapulted by our determination to be the market leader in meeting consumer demand for healthier, more natural foods that offer convenience along with great taste and value.
Our Naturals products made up 15% of our total prepared meats sales in 2013.
Maple Leaf’s Innovation Pillars
Number of products launched 2012–2013
Maple Leaf launched 139 new products in 2012 and in 2013 to meet our six pillars of innovation. Groundbreaking innovations include Maple Leaf Prime Raised Without Antibiotics and Mina halal, hand-slaughtered fresh and prepared meats.
Number of products launched 2012 – 2013
Raised Without Antibiotics
Consumers want fresher, natural food and are increasingly concerned about non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animal production.
In 2013, we were the first branded national company in Canada to introduce Raised Without Antibiotics products across our prepared meats categories, available through our Schneiders Country Naturals brand. We also launched Maple Leaf Prime Raised Without Antibiotics chicken.
We plan to expand our portfolio in this important segment of the market in 2014.
The Canadian population is increasingly diverse, and Muslims represent approximately 1 million people in a changing national demographic. During 2013, we increased our Mina™ line of halal chicken to meet the growing demand for hand-slaughtered halal products. Mina strictly adheres to the Islamic faith and our products are certified by the Halal Monitoring Authority. In 2013, Mina launched a frozen whole turkey and frozen chicken offerings: Chicken Strips, Chicken Nuggets, Breaded Chicken Burgers, Hot BBQ Chicken Wings and Honey Garlic Chicken Wings. We also increased our brand awareness by 80% within Canada’s ethnic consumer population.