Rigaud company receives federal financial support for development
PHOTO BY JAMES ARMSTRONG
Federal funding announced by MP Peter Schiefke (right) will have a positive impact on new jobs and affordable housing in Rigaud according to Fleury Michon General Director John Allard (centre) and Mayor Hans Gruenwald Jr. (left).
Rigaud based Fleury Michon America food services received $2 million in repayable financial support from the federal government as announced by Vaudreuil-Soulanges Member of Parliament Peter Schiefke at the company’s facilities on Thursday, August 22.
New local jobs
“This is good news for our region,” said Schiefke. “This company is an important contributor to our regional economy.” Currently, Fleury Michon America employs 400 people and the expansion that is already in progress will create an additional 100 positions.
“This company, like so many others, need to compete on a global scale. It’s funding like this that helps them do that,” Schiefke said following the announcement.
Fleury Michon America produces and distributes prepared frozen meals mostly for the air carrier industry and big box stores. The federal funding helps companies to be innovative.
“One of the things the federal government always looks at is what is being done to reduce their environmental footprint,” he added. The addition of the digital equipment will permit the company to reduce their non-recyclable waste material by 300 per cent. The funding was provided through the Canada Economic Development (CED) for Quebec Regions. Schiefke made the announcement on behalf of the Honourable Navdeep Bains, the Minister responsible for the Innovation, Science and Economic Development portfolio that include 17 federal departments, five regional development agencies and the CED.
Need for housing
For Rigaud Mayor Hans Gruenwald Jr., the announcement was good news. It also means an affordable housing project for the town will move forward.
“Fleury Michon is participating in that project and there will be a certain number of units reserved for their employees,” said the mayor. More details concerning the housing project will be announced in September. The goal is to have shovels in the ground by the end of 2019 or early 2020.
“We’re currently looking at 75 units but that could change,” said Gruenwald. The units range in size from 3 ½ to 6 ½ rooms. “Sometimes the need changes faster than the plan,” he added.
Automation replaces low-end jobs
According to Fleury Michon President Claude Bergeron, currently 400 employees produce 32 million meals per year for the company. With the planned expansion and automation, the goal is to increase the number of meals to 50 million annually over the next two years. “The investment in robotics and packaging will eliminate some of the low end jobs,” said Director General John Allard. He said the people currently working in those positions would be transferred and given the necessary training.
“Keeping employees is the challenge,” said Allard. “We have to give them a reason to come to Rigaud.” Bergeron described how the company is currently busing employees in from the West Island and downtown Montreal. “That’s why we are working with the town to build housing,” said Bergeron.
“The big hurdle is always at the kitchen level in the food production business,” said Bergeron adding, “We are chefs first.”
He described how their chefs develop recipes that are reproduced on a grand scale while maintaining the quality and tastiness of a meal prepared at home. The freezing process essentially stops the aging process of prepared foods. The expansion project already underway is contained within the footprint of the existing building and will continue without stopping production. Although the company does source products from local producers, frequently the quantity of individual product is beyond the production capacity of a local source.
Being in the prepared packaged food industry poses ecological challenges for the company in terms of using plastics versus more ecologically friendly products.
“In the end, it’s the client that decides,” said Allard noting the packaging has to withstand extreme temperature changes from freezing to reheating for the end user, the airline traveller.
“We try to do our part as a company,” said Bergeron in reference to reducing the company’s carbon footprint. “We’re currently putting in place a program with the MRC Vaudreuil-Soulanges and the Town of Rigaud to compost all our organic waste. He noted they are also working with the town on the use of water and the pretreatment of wastewater.
“Consumer habits are changing rapidly,” said Allard. He predicted the next wave in the prepared food industry would be the use of plant-based protein instead of meat. “It’s hitting the restaurant and retail markets,” he noted. “Our industry will be next.”