Field Roast Acquired by Maple Leaf Foods – What it Means for Modern Veganism

On November 30, 2017, Maple Leaf Foods announced a definitive agreement to acquire Field Roast Grain Meat Co. for USD$120 million, plus related costs. The purchase aligns closely with Maple Leaf Foods’ stated goal of becoming the world’s most sustainable protein company. This is extremely exciting news, and a true validation of the winds of change are beginning to sweep through the agriculture industry.

Before Field Roast, Maple Leaf Already Had a History of Acquiring Plant-Based Companies

Field Roast is not Maple Leaf Foods first Plant-Based acquisition. In March of 2017, Maple Leaf Foods announced it had purchased Lightlife Foods. Lightlife is a leading US producer of “refrigerated plant-based protein foods.” Maple Leaf paid $140 million dollars for the company. Regarding the purchase, Michael McCain, Maple Leaf Foods CEO stated that “expanding into the fast growing alternative proteins market is one of Maple Leaf’s strategic growth platforms and advances our commitment to become a leader in sustainability.” So-called “alternative” protein companies are “outpacing growth in the broader packaged foods sector” and this is an exciting growth opportunity for any company that is not afraid of changing directions and challenging the traditional model of meat production.

Maple Leaf Foods places significant emphasis on reducing waste and improving efficiency, particularly technological efficiency. It’s impossible to be truly efficient in a system built on animal exploitation. In addition to the misery it causes, animal agriculture is inherently wasteful. To paraphrase Lightlife Foods’ catchphrase “Meat without the Middleman” is always going to be more profitable. Because meat alternatives are made directly from plants, instead of the animals that eat them, they are more efficient.

From Tragedy to Proactive Change?

In 2008, Maple Leaf Foods experienced one of the worst foodborne illness disasters in Canadian history. At least 57 people were sickened, and 20 died in a listeria outbreak that was traced back to a Maple Leaf Foods facility in Ontario. The company took immediate responsibility, and issued an extensive recall. Their rapid response averted a PR nightmare and rescued the companies reputation. But the lessons of that tragedy have remained with the company’s executive team and guided company policy ever since.

Animal foods are a major source of foodborne illness. They also threaten human health via antibiotic resistance, which the CDC estimates sickens over 2,000,000 Americans each year and kills 24,000.

Field Roast Makes Good Financial Sense

In their 3rd Quarter Financial Call, MapleLeaf CEO McCain reported that Lightlife Foods’ growth exceeded their projections. Additionally, Maple Leaf’s CFO, Deborah Simpson, stated that their “alternative protein business” (Lightlife) “benefited from double-digit category growth and higher consumer demand.Leveraging these dynamics, expanding distribution, resulted in excellent sales & earnings contribution from Lightlife, which we acquired earlier this year and is exceeding our expectations.” Of course, stories like this provide excellent validation of the economic gains afforded by entering the plant-based marketplace. McCain and the rest of Maple Leaf’s board see investment in the alternative protein space as a way to improve corporate image and enhance sustainability efforts. But importantly, it also makes good financial sense.

In light of the tremendous success of Lightlife, it’s little wonder that Maple Leaf has chosen to double down on their investment in plant-based foods with the Field Roast acquisition. I see the purchase as a great sign of things to come for both Maple Leaf and Field Roast. Field Roast will enjoy better distribution, while Maple Leaf benefits from enhanced profitability. This is nothing but good news for both companies, the planet, and the animals. Let’s hope this move is just the first of many in this direction!

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