Irving’s potato arm plans new plant for Lethbridge

Unveiling a rendering of Cavendish Farms’ planned new Lethbridge plant (close-up below) are (l-r) 48-year Cavendish employee Gerry Patterson; Cavendish’s Lethbridge director of operations, Lee Gleim; Cavendish’s senior vice-president Ron Clow, Cavendish president Robert Irving; Alberta Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier; Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman; Trevor Lewington, CEO of Economic Development Lethbridge; and potato grower Greg Nakamura. (Photo and graphic courtesy Cavendish Farms)

Cavendish Farms, the potato arm of J.D. Irving Ltd., is set to build a $350 million frozen potato processing plant at Lethbridge to double its local capacity and replace the old York Farms plant it owns there.

Moncton-based Cavendish announced Monday it has picked up Lethbridge city hall’s approval to buy a new plant site in Sherring Industrial Park, in the city’s northeast corner.

With the deal comes a partnership agreement between the Lethbridge and Alberta governments to upgrade the municipal infrastructure at the industrial park, in support of what the province described Monday as “the single largest private investment in the city’s history.”

The expanded new plant is also expected to create demand for another 9,000 acres of potatoes, which the province said “will create greater opportunities for local producers and will increase the province’s value-added food processing capabilities.”

Talks between the city and the province on the infrastructure upgrades needed for the expansion of the Sherring park are “ongoing” and expected to be finalized this spring, the province said.

Construction on the new plant is also expected to begin in the spring for completion by the summer of 2019.

“The new plant will allow Cavendish Farms to more than double its annual production capacity to meet growing demand and will be more efficient, reducing our carbon footprint,” the company said in a separate release Monday.

“The opportunity to expand in Lethbridge, and remain within the region is very important to us,” Cavendish president Robert Irving said in the company’s release.

“Lethbridge has provided Cavendish Farms with a cross-Canada presence that has helped fuel our growth and allowed us to reach key markets.”

Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman said the city is “thrilled with the decision by Cavendish Farms to stay in southern Alberta and the commitment they’ve made to our city.”

Cavendish on Monday described its current Lethbridge plant, which it bought in 2012 in a $60 million deal for Maple Leaf Foods’ frozen potato business, as “aging.”

The 142,000-square foot Lethbridge plant has operated since the mid-1950s, processing potatoes under the York Farms banner until its owner, Canada Packers, merged into Maple Leaf in 1991.

At the time of the sale in 2012, Irving described the current Lethbridge plant as “a well-maintained facility whose 135 employees produce quality frozen potato products for customers in Canada, in the U.S. and in key export markets.”

Cavendish is also one of several major players in the southern Alberta potato market. McCain Foods has a plant about 25 km east of Lethbridge, while Lamb Weston and Frito Lay Canada operate plants at Taber, about 50 km east of Lethbridge. — AGCanada.com Network

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