In this episode our special guest is Vince Breton from DuBreton. He tells us about his Canadian specialty pork farming and processing company, which is getting worldwide attention for its organic pork products and the standards of treatment of the animals on his farms. In the news, we talk about recent layoffs at Eat Just, the closure of Merit Foods in Winnipeg, the scene from a Montreal underpass where frozen carcasses of pigs strung up in protest, the long-term changes in the food, grocery, and restaurant industries brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and the influence of Tik Tok on food innovation and the new Chicken Big Mac at McDonald's, inspired by a fan recipe.
In this episode, we discuss recent news stories in the food industry, starting with the recent layoffs at Eat Just, notwithstanding their success with their plant-based egg product and cultivated meat products, and the closure of Merit Foods in Winnipeg: is there more behind these closures to the plant-based protein industry, or just swings and roundabouts of risk, growth and capitalism?
We touch on the scene from a Montreal underpass where frozen carcasses of pigs strung up in protest and the immigrant child labour scandal at Hearthside Food Solutions that may have kids packing your Cheerios.
Our special guest is Vince Breton from DuBreton. He tells us about his Canadian specialty pork farming and processing company, which is getting worldwide attention for its organic pork products and the standards of treatment of the animals on his farms that he sells to consumers.
Lastly, we discuss the long-term changes in the food, grocery, and restaurant industries brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic
and the largest outbreak of avian influenza in U.S. history, which has driven up egg prices and raised concerns about a potential human pandemic. Finally, we discuss the influence of Tik Tok on food innovation and the new Chicken Big Mac at McDonald's, inspired by a fan recipe.
A few Dubreton cooks from Mike's popular YouTube cooking show, the Last Request BBQ show:
Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is a Professor in food distribution and policy in the Faculties of Management and Agriculture at Dalhousie University in Halifax. He is also the Senior Director of the Agri-food Analytics Lab, also located at Dalhousie University. Before joining Dalhousie, he was affiliated with the University of Guelph’s Arrell Food Institute, which he co-founded. Known as “The Food Professor”, his current research interest lies in the broad area of food distribution, security and safety. Google Scholar ranks him as one of the world's most cited scholars in food supply chain management, food value chains and traceability.
He has authored five books on global food systems, his most recent one published in 2017 by Wiley-Blackwell entitled “Food Safety, Risk Intelligence and Benchmarking”. He has also published over 500 peer-reviewed journal articles in several academic publications. Furthermore, his research has been featured in several newspapers and media groups, including The Lancet, The Economist, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, BBC, NBC, ABC, Fox News, Foreign Affairs, the Globe & Mail, the National Post and the Toronto Star.
Dr. Charlebois sits on a few company boards, and supports many organizations as a special advisor, including some publicly traded companies. Charlebois is also a member of the Scientific Council of the Business Scientific Institute, based in Luxemburg. Dr. Charlebois is a member of the Global Food Traceability Centre’s Advisory Board based in Washington DC, and a member of the National Scientific Committee of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in Ottawa.
Michael is the Founder & President of M.E. LeBlanc & Company Inc. and a Senior Advisor to Retail Council of Canada and the Bank of Canada as part of his advisory and consulting practice. He brings 25+ years of brand/retail/marketing & eCommerce leadership experience with Levi's, Black & Decker, Hudson's Bay, Today's Shopping Choice and Pandora Jewellery.
Michael has been on the front lines of retail industry change for his entire career. He has delivered keynotes, hosted fire-side discussions with C-level executives and participated worldwide in thought leadership panels. ReThink Retail has added Michael to their prestigious Top Global Retail Influencers list for 2023 for the third year in a row.
Michael is also the president of Maven Media, producing a network of leading trade podcasts, including Remarkable Retail , with best-selling author Steve Dennis, now ranked one of the top retail podcasts in the world.
Based in San Francisco, Global eCommerce Leaders podcast explores global cross-border issues and opportunities for eCommerce brands and retailers.
Last but not least, Michael is the producer and host of the "Last Request Barbeque" channel on YouTube, where he cooks meals to die for - and collaborates with top brands as a food and product influencer across North America.
Michael LeBlanc 00:04
Welcome to The Food Professor Podcast, Season 3, Episode 15. I'm Michael LeBlanc.
Sylvain Charlebois 00:09
And I'm The Food Professor Sylvain Charlebois.
Michael LeBlanc 00:12
Well, Sylvain you crossed a line that should not have been crossed this week on social media tearing at the social fabric itself, advocating for Crunchy Kraft Peanut Butter.
Sylvain Charlebois 00:15
Michael LeBlanc 00:18
Instead of smooth. How you can justify promoting that kind of product, (crossover talk).
Sylvain Charlebois 00:27
Major faux pa there, I know and when I saw that jar is $6.89 for two kilos, I had to grab it. You know, you know what, this week I'm gonna like crunchy. I went to Twitter and said I hate crunchy. But this week, I'm gonna like it. And people said what, you don't like crunchy?
Michael LeBlanc 00:37
I do not like crunchy. I can't stand crunchy. I love peanut butter,
Sylvain Charlebois 00:42
Michael LeBlanc 00:45
And I can't stand crunchy.
Sylvain Charlebois 00:51
Thank you. Thank you.
Michael LeBlanc 00:53
I think it's an abomination. Sorry, for that.
Sylvain Charlebois 00:55
Exactly. It's unfinished business really.
Michael LeBlanc 01:01
I will tell you what is not unfinished business. Our very special guest on this episode is Vincent Breton, President of duBreton Pork whose mission is to connect farmers to consumers who value sustainability and animal welfare specialising in the production and processing of organic pork. They operate four processing plants, one in the US, two feed mills and several farms in Eastern Canada. You know, when you and I got together for my Last Request Barbecue show, we made Guru Ribs with,
Sylvain Charlebois 01:22
Michael LeBlanc 01:24
Rustic, Rustic Pork and they turned out pretty, pretty good, right?
Sylvain Charlebois 01:34
I know, they were fantastic. Fantastic. So, I'm happy that Vince was available. He's a leader really, he saw this, his family saw this niche market way back when and, and his company is doing so well. And you know, he's got the only pork which can be exported basically anywhere around the world. No restrictions whatsoever.
Michael LeBlanc 01:50
Oh, I didn't realise that.
Sylvain Charlebois 01:51
Because of the antibiotic. Yeah. So, he's got an open market, of course, duBreton is a bit (inaudible) on the pricey side. But still, pork is a very, very affordable animal protein (crossover talk).
Michael LeBlanc 02:07
We'll talk. We'll get to that later in the show.
Sylvain Charlebois 02:10
Michael LeBlanc 02:12
All right. Let's get right into the news picking up on our interview with Josh Tetrick from Eat Just. I guess I wanted to call it eat just-less layoffs for the Eat Just folks. (Crossover talk). Yeah, they're leaning it out about 20 people. You know, it's interesting, because Josh, (crossover talk).
Sylvain Charlebois 02:27
40 actually. Yeah,
Michael LeBlanc 02:30
How many 40?
Sylvain Charlebois 02:32
Michael LeBlanc 02:30
40 people. You know, I think, and you know, when we were talking to Josh, he was sharing success stories for their JUST Eggs, which is a plant-based product. And, and of course, they're cultivated meat products. Should we be making anything of this news? I think if, if there's any time to be successful with a, with an egg, an egg substitute product in the States, given where they are it would be now, but should we make anything of this? Or is this just you know, the put-and-takes of capitalism?
Sylvain Charlebois 02:55
Well, yeah. So, the anti-plant-based advocates are already saying, you see, you see the bubble is bursting. And then Merit Foods, of course, closes its doors this week in Winnipeg, unfortunately. And we don't know what's going to happen. My guess is that it will reopen. The companies who are owed money are like FCC at $95 million. And, and I think EDC is actually involved as well, they're not going to actually make, make, they're not going to close Merit Foods. But generally speaking, I think this, there is a bit of a movement towards layoffs in the food industry in general, I think there's been more investments.
Sylvain Charlebois 03:35
And there's more right-sizing going on, I think across the board. Tyson has actually laid off some people. Maple Leaf has actually laid off some people. So, there are a few companies, well established companies in the anima-, animal protein space that have actually had to lay off some people. So, I wouldn't make a big deal of it. But I know that the media tends to focus on these startups because they represent something new and all of a sudden people may conclude that oh, my goodness, the bubble is bursting. But I wouldn't go that far. What do you, what were your thoughts?
Michael LeBlanc 04:16
Well, I mean, I see more distribution not less for the Eat JUST Egg product. And, and you know, I think it's 40 people, it's not easy for those people. But there's the puts-and-takes of capitalism, (crossover talk).
Sylvain Charlebois 04:26
By the way, when you're starting up, you hire a bunch of people with lots of talent to figure things out.
Michael LeBlanc 04:29
Sylvain Charlebois 04:30
But at some point, you just, you just right-size the place. So that's kind of what Elon, Elon Musk is doing with Twitter, by the way. I mean, he just bought this gigantic thing and has basically right sized the whole thing based on what he needs to do. So,
Michael LeBlanc 04:46
Tell me more about Merit Foods. So, tell me, they're based in Winnipeg put into protection. So, who are they and what do they make? And, and tell me, just tell us, me and the listeners a little bit more about Merit?
Sylvain Charlebois 04:57
Well, it’s an ingredient company for, for the plant-. So, they basically process canola, soy, a bunch of different ingredients, and they were there to actually manufacture plant-based products essentially. And so they were, (crossover talk).
Michael LeBlanc 05:14
Like what in your mind, is this a similar kind of case? I mean, this is, this isn't right sizing, this is going into protection, (crossover talk).
Sylvain Charlebois 05:24
Well, Merit Foods designed, the plant there is brand new, brand new. And it's designed to actually increase its size by four times its current size right now. So, there's plenty of space there. Winnipeg, obviously, just got (inaudible). I think Nestle is also involved in that market, Merit Foods. So, there's lots going on there. And I just think I see it more as a bump in the road.
Michael LeBlanc 05:38
Sylvain Charlebois 05:39
Because like I said, there's lots of, lots of, debtors that want to make this thing work. They do want to make this thing work as much as possible. And so, but I actually did meet the management company a few years ago, when I was there. very competent. I think it's a cashflow thing, it's just a matter of getting things going. And it's always tough. I mean, the agri-business world is tough. And the one message I gave to Ed White, which is, who's a Western producer, reporter who called me up that morning saying that Merit Foods was closing. I was, I was a bit sad, but at the same time, I think we need to get comfortable with failure, well not comfortable with failure, but we need to, we shouldn't be afraid of failure. I mean, it's a low margin business. And it is what it it's, it’s tough. And so if we want to grow our agri-food sector, we can't be afraid of failure.
Michael LeBlanc 06:53
Yeah. And I would, I would almost reframe it as don't be afraid of risk, I would say it's now the way society capitalism business is moving, I think standing still is more riskier than taking risk.
Sylvain Charlebois 06:58
Michael LeBlanc 06:59
A shout out to all the innovators and all the great people that we talked to on a regular basis on the show who are taking risks, and sometimes they don't all work out. But in the big scheme of things, hopefully, it'll turn out better. And when pigs fly, so hanging pigs in Montreal, I hear you posted, Montreal was startled to see frozen pigs hanging from an underpass,
Sylvain Charlebois 07:04
Wasn’t that disturbing?
Michael LeBlanc 07:07
Well, it's reminiscent of a scene from that movie Sicario, you know, is Montreal, the new Juarez for pig, (crossover talk) demonstrators. What’s going on there? Who did that and what do you make of that?
Sylvain Charlebois 07:35
Well, I can't remember the name of the group. But this particular group is quite extreme and has used an extreme act to make a message essentially for animal welfare. So, they hung three carcasses under Montreal, overpasses, and people saw that and were wondering what, what was going on,
Michael LeBlanc 08:01
Sylvain Charlebois 08:03
And I suspect that these carcasses went to waste. So, you're wasting food in order to convey a message about animal welfare. I just don't, don’t understand, (crossover talk).
Michael LeBlanc 08:17
Where do you get them to begin with, like, what, you don't go, you don't go to a pet store and buy pig carcasses. I mean, where did they get these things to begin with?
Sylvain Charlebois 08:23
I don't know. Maybe they stole them from a farmer or something? I don't know. I don't know. But the bottom line is that there are some, some, some animal welfare advocates out there who are more respectful towards food in general. And yeah, it's just not it wasn't really a thing to celebrate. I think it was just I don't think it was. I think it was the wrong thing to do, really.
Michael LeBlanc 08:48
Did you, you’d have to ask yourself now did the child pack your Cheerios’? It's a question Americans and maybe some Canadians are waking up to ask themselves. The New York Times investigation into immigrant child labour uncovered 1000s of teens and young teens working in a third party co-packing plant, (crossover talk).
Sylvain Charlebois 09:04
In the United States of America.
Michael LeBlanc 09:07
Hearthside Food Solutions. Of course, the CEO was appalled and, and said you know, we hold our third-party staffing agencies accountable. So, what do you, what do you make of this? Is this, is this, do you think this is happening in Canada? And is this the stress of cost and not enough people what would drive businesses to do this?
Sylvain Charlebois 09:24
I wouldn't be surprised if it's happening in Canada. But I mean, when you have a brand, when you have an image, it's something, it's something you want to think about. And, frankly, these reactions aren't necessarily great. I think we all know that there's a labour crunch out there. It's been difficult to hire. I mean, I have daughters that are 14-15 and, and, and they're working when we know because it's been hard for many companies and, and, and places to hire. So, I think it's a, we're in this crunch for a while. The recognition that labour is difficult is one thing. But just to deny and just passing the buck may not have been the right choice, the right thing to do. But if you carry a big brand, a multinational brand you absolutely want to be extremely careful with who you hire and what's going on there?
Michael LeBlanc 10:20
Let's take a break now from the news and get to our excellent interview with Vincent Breton from duBreton Pork. Vincent, welcome to The Food Professor Podcast. How are you doing this morning?
Vincent Breton 10:31
Michael LeBlanc 10:32
Well, it is a real treat for me literally and, and figuratively. to chat with you. I'm a big fan of your product. I have to tell you I, as an homage to you, to your coming on the show. I cooked a very fun pork roast last night. And it was delicious. I have to tell you, we, you know what, you know what I put around it? I put lime Chipotle mustard and everything bagel seasoning, and then smoked it.
Sylvain Charlebois 10:54
Michael LeBlanc 10:55
Very fun. Very fun.
Sylvain Charlebois 10:58
Now Michael’s a fine chef. Yeah, big fan of, a big fan of, of your products, for sure.
Michael LeBlanc 11:04
Why don't we start at the beginning, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got to do and what you do and what you do now for a living?
Vincent Breton 11:11
So, my name is Vincent Breton. So, I'm the President of duBreton. So, duBreton is a family company that my grandfather started in 1944. And basically, my father took over in the 60s. And we've been involved over the years in the egg business, in the feed mill in, in the poultry business. And I would say that lately, for the last 20 years, we have mainly focused on the niche pork business. So, we have sold many of the companies that we had, and we streamlined our operation. And now what we are really about is producing the finest organic pork in the world. The finest pork product in the world and trying to add value to it. And so now we're involved in the farming, we are still involved in the feeding of the animals, we have a feed meal to basically service our own farms. And we also do a little bit of processing with a couple of plants, one in the US and one in Canada. So, we're really about adding value to the animal, to the pork and we're trying to do things differently. So, that's basically what we're all about.
Michael LeBlanc 12:37
So when you, when you say, the farms I'm going through your website, you've got a very clear brand message connecting farmers to consumers. Just to be clear, you don't own any farms, or you do own farms or do you just supply the farmers, (crossover talk).
Vincent Breton 12:52
Yeah, we do own farms.
Michael LeBlanc 12:55
Vincent Breton 12:57
We do own farms, you know, not all the farms that we process the animal from, but I would say maybe 30% of it.
Michael LeBlanc 12:58
Okay, now you, you know, with the background, you would have had many choices to go in many different directions as you said you weren't always just in, in pork, but tell me a little bit about why you chose this path what, what was it about this path that you thought would be the most interesting for the business and, and, and the most interesting for, for consumers?
Vincent Breton 13:19
It basically started at the end of the 90s, we had some challenges, and we knew that Quebec was not the best place to be a low cost producer because of regulation mainly I would say and because, also of the temperature obviously and the tough winter that we have. So, compared to Western Canada and compared to Western US we knew that our costs will always be higher we knew that having access to cheap grain which represents you know a high percentage of the cost of the, of producing an animal especially in the pork business, I mean we knew that we could not be the best company out there. So, we started to look at some alternatives. So, how could we then, the thought process (inaudible) how can we differentiate, differentiate ourselves. So, on a trip in Japan at that time, I think it was in 97 I was meeting with some customer and then we got a request from a company asking to have meat or pork coming from animals that do not have certain diseases. At that time, they were listing five or six diseases and they were calling the product specific pathogen free. So, this is all, this you know this is the way, so I grabbed that opportunity.
Michael LeBlanc 14:41
Is that trick-a-nosis? Is that, do I have that right? That was a, (crossover talk).
Vincent Breton 14:46
No, no, it was, it was more the PRRS I think in English that and other types of diseases that the customer did not want the meat coming. Did not want to have the meat coming from those animals. So, we were involved, at that time, still in the, in the genetic side of the selection side of the animals were genetic pork, which we sold later. But we had the opportunity because of our very clean herds to service that specific customer and this is how we started and then I thought to myself, if there's a market in Japan, there's certainly a market somewhere else. And when we started looking at the US market, we now, we then got involved with a company like Applegate Farms which has been sold later to Olymel food. We've been involved with Whole Foods Market with, which was a great success at that time, and we're growing very quickly. And, and then the rest is history because, we, we learned a lot from those people and then you know, our product line evolved. And then the certification came on board and so forth. But this is how we started basically.
Sylvain Charlebois 16:01
When you look at, so you're, you're you have a niche product, a premium product. So, how do you, how do you ensure that your pigs are raised organically and, and how, how does your certification process work, really?
Vincent Breton 16:18
I would say that in the last 20 years certification processes improved a lot. I mean, it started, I remember when we started at Whole Foods, I mean, the company was very, I would say decentralised. So, you would have a buyer coming from one region visiting your farm and accepting, accepting the, the, the farm network, looking at the sample of your farms and your practices. And basically, the audit process was not as strong as it is right now.
Vincent Breton 17:24
Over the years what they have done is they have been involved with different third-party certification processes and they even found one in finance, one which is Global Animal Partnership. Now there's and, and, and that certification process is basically based on the, on asset and ISO 9000, you know, process where you really have, they visit the farms on, on the 15-month basis, all the farms are verified. The production protocols are written very clearly. You know, it works like all the quality control systems that we have in our plants, whatever, it’s with CFIA we, with USDA. I mean, all those third-party certifications did invest a lot of money and a lot of effort in their process.
Vincent Breton 18:33
So, today, we duBreton Pork is mainly, depending on the program, tree certification, the organic certification, which is regulated and, and we do have, we do use third-party certification (inaudible) the Global Animal Partnership, which is mandatory to sell (inaudible) food. And the other party that we use is Certified Humane, which we started in 2002 or 2003, which is also where you know, they sample 10% of your herd every year. And then they, they, they basically do a visit and audit of the farms, the plant, the transportation, everything is going on there the loop. And the reason we're using two certifications is that in the past, and still now, the sort of the Global Animal Partnership Certification has been linked with all food. So, other retailers were viewing that as a basic, basically all food process, I did not want to, I would say promote the way Whole Foods was doing things which is my point of view is kind of understandable. But it's really a tough process internally. So, that's basically what we rely on. We rely on the third-party, but we also have an in-house team. So, before, you know, we do our own audits internally with our own people, so that's a tough process. I mean, that's the toughest process we've, we’re, we've been going through.
Sylvain Charlebois 19:31
As you know, Vincent, there's lots of attention given to living conditions for, for farm animals, including pigs. For people who are not familiar with the duBreton product and, and your standards. Could you tell us more about your pig's living condition in general, what's the difference between a duBreton hog versus a hog raised in other ways?
Vincent Breton 19:59
Yep, basically the certification that we're going under it was, whatever Certified Humane and G.A.P., which is pretty similar in terms of claims or in terms of the way you raise the animals. The first thing is space. Okay, so we're giving a lot more space to the animal. The sow, you know, we don't have any, were, we’re, we are managing our farm on the group sow housing, but not necessarily the way the, the, the commodity industry or the main industry handle it. There's no farrowing crate, there's no gestation crate. When people are talking about the industry, or the customer, the big retail chains are now talking about space, it is just talking about the gestation crate, but we don't have any, any farrowing crate either. So, it means that the animal as the sow has a lot more freedom so she can turn around. All the stages of the production include bedding, so they're raised on sawdust or bedding. So, they cannot be raised on, on concrete or a concrete floor. And they are given two to three times more space at each stage of the raising practices and for the organic, the difference with the Certified Humane or G.A.P. or what people call the natural is the animals are going outside. So, space is really a big component.
Vincent Breton 21:43
The second big component is the feed. There's no antibiotics at any stage, no animal by-product at any stage. There are no hormones or any products that are not natural that are given to the animal. And obviously in case of the organic, the organic, the grain needs to be certified organic. So, it means that they have been grown without the use of pesticides. So, you get the space, you get the feed component, then you get all the physical alteration. We do not clip the tail, we do not clip the teeth of the animal, the only thing we're doing is the castration because of the flavour of the product. But we have to give a product before we're doing it, we're doing it a little bit differently than the commodity businesses doing it. So, physical alteration is another big component. Space, food and physical alteration are a lot different. You have to know that raising an organic animal costs twice, sometimes depending on the cost of the grain three times the cost of a, (crossover talk).
Sylvain Charlebois 22:45
Twice or three times, eh? Wow, (crossover talk)
Vincent Breton 22:49
Yeah. Because it is a commodity animal.
Sylvain Charlebois 22:51
I’m sure you're concerned about ASF. There's lots of talk, obviously about ASF in the industry, you’re concerned as well, I'm sure?
Vincent Breton 23:00
Yes, it's a little bit funny, though. Because the industry they're talking about is birds, migrating birds or, or wild pigs. While the risk, number one is, I mean, we have a lot of livestock trucks going in the US. And they're coming back, and they're not washed. So, the biggest concern or the biggest risk, in my point of view, is being able to wash the truck at the border coming back from the US. And this risk is known for many years and it is not managed.
Sylvain Charlebois 23:35
So, you don't say we're doing enough.
Vincent Breton 23:38
No, we start with I mean, there's a lot of politics involved in my point of view. (Crossover talk).
Michael LeBlanc 23:43
That's what the whole show is about. We know that,
Sylvain Charlebois 23:45
Michael LeBlanc 23:47
Yeah, that’s for sure.
Vincent Breton 23:50
We call it preparedness. I mean ASF preparedness. And then they spend a lot of time talking about wild boar. They spent a lot of time talking about the risk of the birds that migrate from, from the US to Canada that are representing a risk. And even you know what, at the moment the commodity industry does not want to recognize organic production, they feel that there's too much risk because we're sending the animal outside and we probably have one of the herds that is the healthiest herd in the whole country. And, and now we're fighting with them for that reason to be included in the zoning and compartment all complicated regulation that they're trying to put on place but let's be honest, if the US, it's a game on was who's gonna catch it, the last one because if the US you know, turned positive ASF in my point of view, the, the only choice that Canada has is to open the borders and, and, and, and do like if it was not existing or because the US represents such a big market you, (crossover talk) can’t close the border and expect that the business will continue or that you will save the business. I mean,
Sylvain Charlebois 25:11
The consumer let’s go back to the consumer and the market. I mean, pork is certainly a product that I think firstly has a lot of advantages right now, given what's going on with food prices and everything else. at the meat counter. How do you see the consumer over the next 12 to 24 months? How do they think they'll be spending their money on, on meat animal proteins in general? And does that favour duBreton and, and if so, how?
Vincent Breton 25:41
I mean, that's, that's a very good question. And we're always asking ourselves questions about that. I mean, in my point of view, talking about the consumer as a uniformed group is a mistake. And this is what we've been telling people and, and, and our employees, our people, our partners, I mean, you need to look at different niche, what I see is, we still have some growth and, and the US market is still on fire, we still have a lot of customers looking for meat that is different.
Vincent Breton 27:00
We still have big drivers, like Whole Foods is a driving machine, there's still you know, while looking to grow their business with Amazon, they're owned by Amazon now. And we have customer like Chipotle Mexican Grill that we're doing business for a long time that have always been great advocate of the animal welfare improvement at the farm level. And they've been putting tough standards in place that we're meeting for a number of years. We have gone through the IATA (inaudible) certification process that takes care of the animal welfare aspect. So, the business on, I mean, more and more consumers are really concerned about how the animals are raised, and they want to have a look and they want the company to be responsible. And on the other side, you get all this economical pressure where people are looking for value that this is why it's a good question. And I have mixed challenges and we see especially here in Quebec in Canada, people looking for a bigger portion, which is in my point of view. I don't know if it's going to last because,
Sylvain Charlebois 27:33
A bigger portion?
Vincent Breton 27:35
Yeah, I mean, like, you see an IGA, or you see now at Metro they want to compete against Costco and they put a big loin, (crossover talk).
Michael LeBlanc 27:44
They have massive pork butts. Yeah, big, big St. Louis cut ribs that you can get there. And,
Sylvain Charlebois 27:47
Michael LeBlanc 27:48
Yeah, yeah. Let me follow up on one thing you said. So, there are standards that you adhere to, and you're very active on social media. So, I pick up some of the threads of your thinking, what, you know, as you say, no customer, customers are different, right? Some are looking for larger portions, some are looking for a different price point. They're very price point driven. What kind of, where do you think there's an intersection of the two where your standards and principles on how you operate can become the norm and in pork and food production? And is there a role for the Canadian government and the grocers, really, as you said Whole Foods and I buy your product at Longo’s for example, but it's available broadly? Is there a role for everyone to get together to elevate the industry so that, what is it, what do they say that the you know, that the products you know that the pigs can have a great life and one bad day kind of thing?
Vincent Breton 28:39
That's again, a very good question and not easy to answer. Because most if you take the average consumer, they don't know what's going on, on the farm. They don't know that maybe 80% of the hogs raised in Canada are raised in the dark. They don't know that if they don't have a, there's no window in the farms. The only time they have the chance to see the light is through the fan when the fans are running during the summer, and during the winter, I mean when they heat the building, I mean, they don't see much of the light coming from the, coming from the sunlight. So, those types of things and the raising practices in terms of space in terms of cage and in terms of product given to the animal. Another example I mean, I know that they don't like us to call it this way but the chemical castration. Do you know that chemical castration is used on females at the moment as a growth promoter? It's done in Canada.
Sylvain Charlebois 29:17
Vincent Breton 29:18
So, people, consumers in general do not know that. So, that's one thing. Some of the consumers have been driven by leaders of the industry and advocates and we can name Whole Foods, we can name Chipotle Mexican Grill, we can name some retailers that are putting some I would say responsibilities policy in place. And now, what we see what is new, and you probably heard about it, the some governments are, especially in the states, some states are, are putting some regulation in terms of animal welfare, and we can use the Prop 12 in California as an example. So, the pressure is coming from different places, and different groups. And I think that at the end of the day, I mean, I think that it helps, you know, raise the practices of the old industry. And, but, you know, there are always consumers that will, are going to be driven by value and others are going to be driven by brand, by quality of the product or by something else. But I must say that organic in my point of view (inaudible) certifying your animal welfare certification are becoming more and more than the norm or are, I would say, I think a higher presence on the shelf. And I think it's a good thing. So, people learn more about how their product is processed. But some people just don't have the ability to buy those products, or the financial ability to, to buy what they would like to buy. And so,
Michael LeBlanc 31:11
Sylvain Charlebois 31:13
In terms of price points. Just to be clear, what's the difference between, say, your product versus, say, other conventional products that we would find at the meat counter? What, what's the, what's the difference?
Vincent Breton 31:24
And you know, what, there's a wide range depending on the cuts, because I mean, not cuts are, we're not able to add value on all the cuts. So, as an example, the tenderloin, since it's very popular, will be two or three times more for organic, but that's sort of how you mean, or the G.A.P. Certification will be more than two times. And when we look at ground pork, sometimes we could be only 10-15- 20% higher than the average pork product. And so there's a, there's a range, depending on the cuts.
Michael LeBlanc 31:56
Let's talk about what's next. That's the last question for you. What's next, what's next for the business? I mean, I see you, you've expanded in the US and how do you see growth is if that's a priority, or what's your, what's your focus?
Vincent Breton 32:07
Our priority has been to basically get out of the commodity business we wanted to. And this part has been done. Now, the only animals that we process are raised without antibiotics, they are raised under animal welfare certification or they’re organic. So, that was the first goal. The second goal is to balance the sales, it's tough, it's not easy. So, this is why we're trying to encourage people to, to vote with their feet, and then with their wallet. So, if they're looking for if they care about animal welfare, about real animal welfare, without any bullshit, I think that we are the only alternative because, we have no cage because, because of what we do, because of the space, because of the bedding, because of the investment that we have done. We took big risks, and we invested over a million, $100 million in our farm and network transformation.
Michael LeBlanc 32:41
Vincent Breton 32:42
And on premium we're giving to the farmers, we're paying producers, you know, according to (inaudible) production, even if sometimes it's creating issues, but so, so we're really trying to sell the whole animal and become more present in the retail space, whether it's in Canada, in the US, we're trying to make customers and people accountable for their opinions, say hey, do you want, you want to have a stake in animal welfare, you want to help the you know, company to change, you know, if you want that you need to, you know, you need to encourage the company that are doing the right things. So, we're really trying to be an authentic company and walk the talk. So, that's basically what we're trying to do.
Sylvain Charlebois 33:50
Well, listen, Vincent, thank you so much for joining us today on The Food Professor podcasts. I mean, it's, it's just great that you, that you're, you've taken over a family business, third generation, and it's such a great product. We're both fans of your product. So, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.
Vincent Breton 34:10
Yeah, right. Thank you very much. I really appreciate it and I'm also you know, I've listened to your podcast, and I follow you, I follow The Food Professor on, also on Twitter, and sometimes we're filming. So, I think we're having fun.
Sylvain Charlebois 34:25
Oh, yeah, absolutely. We don’t have to agree on everything. It's just it's important that we actually have debates on issues.
Vincent Breton 34:31
Yeah. And like the last one, I mean, then maybe to weigh in on this. Have you seen the, I've seen a video on TikTok you know, someone doing a meat-based plant that was so funny. I’ll share it with you.
Sylvain Charlebois 34:49
Although I haven't seen it but yeah, there's, there's lots of lots going on with the animal protein or in the protein world in general. Absolutely. Yeah.
Vincent Breton 35:00
Anytime you want to discuss about something else about labelling, how I think that our labelling system is not very good and doing a bad job on consumer and misleading, I mean, any topics that you want to talk in the food industry or in the meat business, you know, that will be a great pleasure to come back. And, and, and give you my two cents on it.
Sylvain Charlebois 35:20
Michael LeBlanc 35:22
Oh, fantastic. Thanks again for joining us, Vincent.
Sylvain Charlebois 35:25
Vincent Breton 35:27
Michael LeBlanc 35:29
Well, as. As you probably heard and the listeners probably heard, I'm a big fan of the product. I said that in the beginning I cooked with it on my show.
Sylvain Charlebois 35:42
Michael LeBlanc 34:44
And had a lot of fun with it. And it was great listening to Vincent and him. You know, he's a no-nonsense guy, right? I mean, he's working,
Sylvain Charlebois 35:20
Michael LeBlanc 35:22
In a niche. And he talks about some other things that happened in the industry. And anyways it was fantastic to have his per-, perspective.
Sylvain Charlebois 35:51
Oh yeah, absolutely great stuff. It's funny that we had him this week, and we had Yanick Gervais, the President of Olymel a few months ago. And his model is so different, night and day, and we know what's going on at Olymel, they've been struggling. And they're restructuring whereas, at duBreton, things are hunky dory.
Michael LeBlanc 36:15
Well, it's an interesting business case, because you know, Olymel competes against a large global infrastructure of mass production of work, whereas Vincent is competing against a very narrow segment. And that's very interesting, right? It’s very interesting.
Sylvain Charlebois 36:33
Michael LeBlanc 36:34
All right. So, we're coming up to the third anniversary of COVID. So, I thought it worthwhile to take a few minutes and take stock, so to speak of, you know, what are your thoughts and kind of, (crossover talk)?
Sylvain Charlebois 36:43
Actually, three years ago, we had this idea, we had the idea for the podcast.
Michael LeBlanc 36:48
That's right. You and I were sitting at the Restaurant's Canada Show, and we kicked it around, but we were all thinking, we were looking around. And I remember talking to you about this and some other folks. I'm like, does everybody not know what's coming here? Like, I you know, not that I have, you know, a better sense of some things, but I had a pretty good sense. There is a bad, (inaudible) about it.
Sylvain Charlebois 36:55
It was a feeling. Yeah, there was a feeling for sure.
Michael LeBlanc 36:58
It’s more than a feeling you know, there in Boston, but it was more than a feeling I was talking to retailers and they’re like, but it's bad in China, and it's gonna get bad here anyway.
Sylvain Charlebois 37:06
Michael LeBlanc 37:07
Aside from that, we know how bad it got. We know what happened. We had, you know, restaurants shut down. We had a huge transference, of consumption to grocers. And, and now as you, as you reflect, now, what are the structural changes that have, that have taken place that we should kind of mention, I see more takeout in fast food? I see people working less downtown, that's gotta impact,
Sylvain Charlebois 37:32
Michael LeBlanc 37:33
You know, where people will locate. So, what have you been thinking about?
Sylvain Charlebois 37:45
I think, I mean, people are coming back a little bit, you know, the work from home thing is still there. I don't think it's gonna go back to what it was. But things have changed, I think. I think the one thing that has changed the most is how we assess risks, as people, especially the younger generations, and I have young children. I can tell you, there's been some changes in my household in terms of how they deal with society, when they go out. When we go out as a family it's you know, you can feel the anxiety. And that's going to impact the marketplace for a very long time, I think. Even adults, I think, do assess risk when they're travelling, when they get out of the house, when they go to a restaurant, when they go, that I think that psyche has completely, completely changed.
Michael LeBlanc 38:39
Now, that's interesting. That's interesting. Well, you know, listen, at the end of the day, I think, you know, my observation of the, you know, the restaurant industry completely missed an opportunity to restructure itself away from what the problems that were plaguing it, I think they just kind of just picked up where they left off. And I think they're gonna pay for that over the course of time, and I think,
Sylvain Charlebois 39:00
Well, they are paying for it.
Michael LeBlanc 39:03
Sylvain Charlebois 39:04
In 2022, we basically for every restaurant opening, two we're closing in Canada, (crossover talk).
Michael LeBlanc 39:09
I think you're gonna see fewer restaurants, and just more drive-thrus and more at home delivery, because people are like, you know listen I think that's, that could be a structural change. Anyway, something for us to keep an eye on. Well, let's talk about the next global pandemic that may be happening and getting started. The New York Times has called the outbreak of avian influenza in the US the biggest in US history. What is it, like, 58 million farm birds in 47 states have been killed. It's already spilling over into other mammals, minks, foxes, again, back to Josh Tetrick talked about the, the way that these things start, you know, H5N1 could mutate could I mean, you know, in the world of assessing risk, it happened, it's happened twice we had SARS and we had COVID. (Crossover talk) you think that the price of eggs in the States is up like 70%.
Sylvain Charlebois 39:58
Michael LeBlanc 40:01
I have two questions for you. What do you make of all this and two, why aren't we seeing that kind of stress in Canada?
Sylvain Charlebois 40:05
Well, it's because, honestly, I think it's about vertical coordination. Farmers are talking to processors, they're recognizing symptoms, they don't hesitate to, to declare, it’s the vertical coordination that has been institutionalised through our quota system. I think supply management has a big,
Michael LeBlanc 40:25
Sylvain Charlebois 40:26
It has been a big component, an upside. Yeah, if you talk to Margaret Hudson from Burnbrae, I suspect that she would say the same thing. And I would agree with her, I actually think, (crossover talk).
Michael LeBlanc 40:36
Do you have a sense of, or I haven't been tracking it, do you have a sense of the price of eggs in Canada that I don't think they've gone up 70%?
Sylvain Charlebois 40:45
Yeah, I actually can tell you right now. So, eggs are up, from last year 17%.
Michael LeBlanc 40:48
One, seven. One seven.
Sylvain Charlebois 40:49
Yeah, one, seven and in the US, it's six, zero 60%. So, it's very different from chicken. Look at the differences. It depends on so, for breasts 2%, for legs, for thighs. 14%. And in the US, they're having a hard time finding anything: drumsticks, chicken drumsticks, 1%, they have the same price as last year. And so the sector hasn't been impacted all that much by the avian flu. And I think it's because people are talking to each other. They're cooperating, they're declaring, and so we'll be fine. Absolutely. But it's, it's really the one thing that is keeping people up at night and, and we talked about being sad about ASF, it's the same thing in pork, it's just a matter of time before it happens. And when it happens, it's going to be devastating for the pork industry.
Michael LeBlanc 41:51
Let's move on. TikTok may be a tool of the Chinese global surveillance world and an influence apparatus. But right now, it's driving food innovation. So, McDonald's, new Chicken Big Mac, there's an article this week in Toronto Life that the Canadian Innovation Chef Jeff Anderson, the chain Senior Manager of Culinary Innovation, noticed it, saw it and then turned the fan recipe into a menu item. Isn't this fascinating, right? Starting early March Torontonians, we be able to have a Chicken Big Mac and,
Sylvain Charlebois 42:02
It started on March 7. Yeah.
Michael LeBlanc 42:04
What do you make of all this? Like, it's so interesting that TikTok isn't just influencing, you know, what we cook, but, you know, maybe there's an upside to TikTok: it's creating food innovation, which is really the people creating food innovation. It’s fascinating stuff.
Sylvain Charlebois 42:37
Oh yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, TikTok is behind the butter board. It's behind all sorts of new ideas. When we get, when you get people together, you get people to think and,
Michael Leblanc 42:46
Sylvain Charlebois 42:47
And it's not, I'm not necessarily against that, of course. I know a lot of people are talking about TikTok and China and surveillance and all that stuff. But I'm just, our show is not about that. It's more about innovation, and it's about, and how do you get ideas and frankly, social media, it gets people to think which is, which is really great. So, and McDonald's, the one thing we've learned over the years is never bet against McDonald's.
Michael LeBlanc 43:13
Sylvain Charlebois 43:14
Never, never. They're always going to figure something out. Every time, if I had a dime for every time, I heard someone say oh, McDonald’s is done. They're gonna close.
Michael LeBlanc 43:24
You could buy a lot of Big Macs with that sentiment. Right?
Sylvain Charlebois 43:29
Michael LeBlanc 43:30
A shout out to Jeff Anderson, by the way, the Culinary Innovation, he is from, wait for it, Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.
Sylvain Charlebois 43:40
Hey, I did not know that.
Michael Leblanc 43:43
Yeah, he went to the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, (crossover talk).
Sylvain Charlebois 43:47
And who else is from Cole Harbour, Sidney Crosby.
Michael LeBlanc 43:50
Sidney Crosby. Listen, a great episode. A pile of fun, lots going on next week. We'll be back on the mic, of course, and we'll have a debrief on the grocer’s testimony in front of the parliamentarians. We'll be able to, (crossover talk).
Sylvain Charlebois 43:55
Are you going to watch the Oscars?
Michael LeBlanc 43:58
You mean, well I'm not gonna watch the Oscars. I'm gonna watch the grocers testify. I don't care about the Oscars. I want to watch, (crossover talk) I think there’s more drama there, (crossover talk).
Sylvain Charlebois 44:10
We’ll have a nice snack, we'll have a nice meal as a family and watch, you know, the red carpet, all the things that we can't afford to buy.
Michael LeBlanc 44:14
All right. Well, listen, this is another great episode. For anyone who has forgotten I'm Michael LeBlanc, Consumer Growth Consultant, keynote speaker and podcaster. And you are?
Sylvain Charlebois 44:25
I’m The Food Professor, Sylvain Charlebois.
Michael LeBlanc 44:28
See you next week Sylvain. And everyone, see you next week. I have more great guests and lots of great stuff to talk about.
Sylvain Charlebois 44:34
All right, take care. Bye, bye.
people, farms, pork, animal, product, food, talking, animal welfare, big, business, Canada, consumer, raised, certification, company, risk, pigs, started, organic, tough