Meat packer JBS names chief for Canadian operations

Posted

A consultant and former executive with XL Foods has been named to lead the Canadian operations of Brazilian meat packing giant JBS.

Willie Van Solkema, who most recently worked as a consultant for XL Fine Foods, the value-added processing arm of XL Foods, and had been XL Foods’ president of sales and operations (2004-09), becomes president of what’s been dubbed JBS Canada, "effective immediately."

Van Solkema comes to the JBS post with upper-management experience from Cargill, at its beef processing plant at High River, Alta., and from Canada Packers, at its plants in Winnipeg and Calgary before that company’s 1991 merger into Maple Leaf Foods.

JBS’ only point of entry in Canada right now is its U.S. arm’s management agreement with XL to operate the Edmonton company’s beef packing plant at Brooks, Alta.

The Brooks plant was offline from late September through to late October when the Canadian Food Inspection Agency suspended the plant’s federal operating license, upon findings that some beef shipped from the plant was contaminated with E. coli bacteria that sickened at least 18 people in Canada.

JBS USA signed its agreement in mid-October to run the Brooks plant on XL’s behalf — a task which Van Solkema will now spearhead.

"I personally worked alongside Willie at the High River plant and have complete confidence in his ability to manage our operations at the Brooks facility in Alberta," JBS USA president Bill Rupp said in a release Wednesday.

Van Solkema’s work in the industry also includes terms on the boards of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association Market Development Council, the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency and the Canada Beef
Export Federation. He also served as president of the Canadian Meat Council in 2004.

"He will prove to be an invaluable asset as we normalize operations at Brooks for both domestic and international markets and continue to explore our exclusive option to purchase additional XL properties in Canada and the U.S.," Rupp said.

The management services deal grants JBS an option to buy XL’s plants at Brooks and Calgary, its U.S. beef plants at Omaha and at Nampa, Idaho, and its 70,000-head capacity feedlot plus 6,600 acres of "adjacent farmland" near Brooks, for a total of US$100 million in cash and JBS shares.

JBS USA said Wednesday it "continues to evaluate the opportunity to exercise the exclusive option."

Sao Paulo-based JBS, now the world’s biggest meat packer, became one of the biggest meat companies in the U.S. when it bought Swift in 2007, Smithfield Beef in 2008 and Pilgrim’s Pride in 2009. It also owns 12 U.S. feedlots.

Related story:
JBS to manage XL beef plant, with option to buy, Oct. 18, 2012