Modern blueberry processing plant opens 1 year ahead of schedule

The grand opening of Acadian Wild Blueberry Co.'s processing plant was held in Saint-Isidore on Tuesday, a full year ahead of the expected opening date.

Acadian Wild Blueberry Co. executive says early opening is to help meet demand for increased capacity

The Acadian Wild Blueberry Co. processing plant, which officially opened in Saint-Isidore on Tuesday, is the most modern in the world, according to officials. (Radio-Canada)

The grand opening of Acadian Wild Blueberry Co.'s processing plant was held in Saint-Isidore on Tuesday, a full year ahead of the expected opening date. 

The push to open sooner was to meet the demand for increased processing capacity from local blueberry growers, said John Bragg, president and co-CEO of the parent company, Oxford Frozen Foods.

"Our company has invested more than $70 million in the local community over the last three years, primarily to service our growers," said Bragg.

Oxford Frozen Foods president and co-CEO John Bragg says the plant opened a year ahead of schedule to meet producers demand for processing capacity. (Radio-Canada)
"We are proud of our strong relationships with our growers and our long association with the community, and we are proud of this factory. This is a strong demonstration of our long-term commitment to the growers, to the region and to the industry."

The company currently employs 70 full-time workers and more than 200 seasonal workers. More jobs are expected to be created as more land comes into production over the next several years.

Modern facility

The plant is considered to be the most modern blueberry processing facility in the world.

It will have two freezing tunnels that can process up to 1.5 million pounds of fresh blueberries per day during the harvest season. The cold storage can hold 45 million pounds of product.

"This new facility will help the Acadian Wild Blueberry Co. increase its competitiveness and its exports, which, in turn, will create jobs," said Economic Development Minister Francine Landry. "The jobs created at the new plant will greatly help the families and the economy in the region."

The provincial government contributed a $37.5 million interest-bearing repayable loan toward the construction of the processing plant.

Producers upset

In 2013, the New Brunswick government came under fire for agreeing to exchange with Nova Scotia-based Oxford Frozen Foods Ltd., 6,285 hectares of Crown land for an equal amount of private land to allow construction of a new processing facility on the Acadian Peninsula.

Blueberry production provides about 360 full-time jobs and the new facility is expected to create more. (CBC)
Members of the Northeast Wild Blueberry Growers Association weren't happy the Nova Scotia company was getting access to land local growers would like to use.

"Put in place a processing plant where, basically, Acadians will no longer have the options of developing farms on Crown land but our options will be to sort and pack berries in processing plants for Oxford Frozen Foods," spokesperson​ Jean-Maurice Landry said at the time.

He added local growers wanted more control and at the time said they had a proposal into the government to put together a co-op to manage Crown land.

When reached to get a reaction on the plant's opening, Landry said, "It's a plus for the industry because there was a lack of freezing capacity, however it's an awful price for the province to pay to get such facilities because we lost in the deal 16,000 acres of prime blueberry land to the benefit of Oxford. 

And a lot of government money went into something that solved only part of the problem because we're still as a region left without much processing capacity." 

More than 300 farm families are currently involved in New Brunswick's wild blueberry industry. Blueberry production provides about 360 full-time jobs and about $11 million in labour income, according to the government.