New technologies increase productivity, cut costs for McCain Foods in Florenceville, N.B.


Never mind the adage that says “bigger is better.” When the opportunity came along to create the ultimate French fry plant, McCain Foods Ltd. engineers weren’t thinking about the biggest operation. Rather, they were striving for the best.

It was in 2007 that McCain decided to replace its original, 50-year-old plant in the company’s hometown of Florenceville, N.B. In the end, officials decided to build a 300,000-square-foot operation (cold storage included) on the same site. However, this new $65 million facility (completed in summer 2008) would have the latest potato processing technologies and other features literally designed into the operation.

“Although the original plant had been updated and expanded a number of times, after 50 years in operation, it was simply outdated and inefficient,” says Plant Manager Frank MacIntyre.

A 21-year company veteran, MacIntyre says McCain optimized every aspect of the new plant.

“Our new state-of-the art facility uses the latest technology, including camera vision systems for peeling, cutting and defect removal. This has improved our raw material utilization and reduced waste,” he says.

“We also have reduced our water and energy use, increased our biogas production and reduced our environmental impact. For example, our improved energy recovery system captures heat from the fryer for re-use in the manufacturing process. This reduces our energy costs and our reliance on fossil fuels. The new plant also provides higher line speed capability and has provided us with increased capability and flexibility to meet changing consumer demand.”

For the record, McCain’s new plant produces more than 100 different frozen French fries, dollar chips, cubes, wedges, sweet potatoes and other potato products. Florenceville products are packaged for retail and foodservice sales throughout North America and abroad.

Because the operation is so new – and because market competition is so fierce – officials are reluctant to share too many operational details. Then again, Florenceville already has much to talk about.

“The safety of our people and our products is a top priority,” MacIntyre notes. “In fact, our Florenceville plant has operated for more than 500 days without a lost-time accident. It also has won the President’s Safety award (within McCain) two out of the last three years for having the lowest total incident rate among our 12 Canadian plants.”

When they designed the new facility, McCain engineers incorporated safety into several areas, officials say. These efforts included ergonomic improvements to potato cutting and dry ingredient handling zones. McCain added more vacuum lift devices (to aid employees handling dry ingredients) and non-slip surface treatments. They also used 5S manufacturing guidelines to redesign all work station areas.

MacIntyre shares even more thoughts about …

… food safety: “The new plant was designed with a focus on quality, sanitation and food safety and has just achieved its Gold Certification from the American Institute of Baking.”

… employee training: “Training has been a key area of focus since the plant start-up.  Employees had to be trained on how to use the new equipment and unfamiliar technology. We used simulation training with all of our control screens before taking them on-line and simulated various sequences that could occur in an operator’s standard functions. Original equipment manufacturers were on hand to help resolve any start-up issues. Since the plant opened, we have been working to develop standard operating procedures for every position.”

… maintenance: “Our maintenance team has developed a ‘Maintenance Excellence Program’ that includes inspections, lubrication, planning, scheduling, execution and follow-up protocols.”

… employee work teams: “Our ‘High Performance Team’ culture … promotes professional and personal growth. Plant employees meet at the start of every shift to discuss the work plan for the coming shift – as well as the performance of the previous shift. As a result, employees are more engaged. There also is also a stronger alignment among team members, and a clearer understanding among employees of their role in the global, regional and plant business plan.”

Since Florenceville opened, MacIntyre says McCain has improved in a number of key operating areas including energy efficiency, potato recovery, line rate, and plant reliability.

He notes, for example, that Florenceville’s use of biogas (from potato waste) has almost doubled since summer 2008. Plant engineers use this renewable energy source to power the plant’s boiler. Meanwhile, process design steps and continuous improvement projects have the plant targeting as much as 50-percent reduction in annual water use compared to the old operation.

MacIntyre says Florenceville implemented an ISO14001 compliant Environmental Management System and is seeking registration in 2012. He adds that the new operation also may qualify for LEED Silver status, if McCain seeks certification.

At a glance:
Company: McCain Foods (Canada)
Food plant(s) honored: Florenceville, N.B.
Selection criteria: Environmental initiatives, productivity, process innovation, employee programs
Employees: N.A.
Facility size: Approximately 300,000 square feet (including on-site cold storage)
Products: Frozen French fries, dollar chips, cubes, wedges, sweet potatoes and other potato products