Bonduelle Canada Plant Back on Line after Warehouse Fire

Frozen vegetable production is returning to normal, after a fire on July 18 destroyed refrigerated warehouse operations at Bonduelle Canada’s processing plant in Tecumesh, east of Windsor, Ontario. The canning of peas resumed first, followed by the freezing of green beans and peas.

No injuries occurred during the blaze, in which nearly 5.5 million kilograms (12 million pounds) of frozen vegetables and fruits were ruined. Damage was estimated at $40 million.

Not impacted by the smoke and flames, however, were the site’s freezing tunnels situated in adjacent and adjoining quarters. Nor were its receiving and preparation areas for incoming raw materials ranging from peas and beans to corn, carrots, celery, brussels sprouts and other produce.

The factory, a former Green Giant facility that changed hands a number of times before being acquired by Bonduelle, typically produces nearly 35,000 metric tons of frozen vegetables and 29,000 metric tons of canned vegetables per year. Most of the output goes to Green Giant, for whom Bonduelle is the exclusive supplier in Canada.

The plant has close to 200 employees on its payroll, and typically hires as many as 250 additional temporary workers during the summer season. Approximately 110 growers produce for the factory, delivering vegetables sourced from 7,000 hectares (17,297 acres) of farmland in the region.

The fire struck at a time of year when many farmers were gearing up for the peak pea crop. Fortunately, they were able to divert much of the harvest to other Bonduelle processing plants in Ontario.

canadaThe company, a subsidiary of the Villeneuve d’Asaq, France-headquartered Bonduelle Group, operates seven plants in Canada – three in Ontario’s Horseshoe Valley and four in Quebec. Collectively, they generally process more than 335,000 tons of vegetables per annum.

It took a few days for fire fighting crews to completely douse hot spots after the extinguishing the inferno, out of concern that the blaze could reignite. This temporarily delayed the commencement of cleanup operations.

Several weeks on, the smell of devastation was still in the air. It was not so much the wafting odor of charred debris, but rather the stench of spoiled and rotting peas, beans, corn and other vegetables.

"In just over three weeks we've done an excellent job of removing those vegetables," Rob Anderson, the company's vice president of operations, said in an interview with CBC News on August 11. He added that the odor should be completely neutralized after the mess is totally cleaned up.

"It has been a massive undertaking,” he explained. “We had over 100,000 square feet of buildings that had to be taken down, and we had to separate the steel structure and concrete, and the rest of the debris from the vegetables, and then remove the vegetables. As you can imagine it's a lot of transportation and movement, and we had to go only as quickly as transportation and the landfill would accept the product."

Bonduelle management praised the “exceptional work by firemen and policemen that managed the incident.” No doubt their rapid response and skill at the scene prevented the fire from spreading to the rest of the complex, in which case the whole operation may have gone up in smoke.

Bonduelle, which also runs four plants in the USA, is ranked as Canada's leading processor of frozen and canned vegetables. Though mainly engaged in vegetable processing, it also produces and packages a wide assortment of other items ranging from frozen fruit and canned soups, to sauces, baked beans and dry beans.

In addition to providing co-packing services for major brands such as Green Giant, the company's products are marketed under the private labels for food distributors and supermarket chains, as well as under Bonduelle’s own labels, which include Arctic Gardens frozen fruits and vegetables, a popular Canadian brand.