By Debbie Furber
Ron and Stan Heleniak examine some of the lean breed certified carcasses Norpac markets in Ontario.
How it withstood the test of time Brand… brand… brand
he eat-local food movement and the resurgence of butcher shops in urban Ontario has played straight into the hands of Norwich Packers. Owned and operated since 1953 by the Heleniak family of Norwich, Ont., the company revamped its business strategy two decades ago to zero in on its high-end, lean, tender beef sold under the Norpac brand name. Today, it is one of only four major beef packers remaining in the province, which in the ’80s boasted as many as 40 plants. This was during a time of consolidation within the meat-packing and grocery industries, explains Matthew Heleniak, who is the third generation of the family involved in managing the business. The company had grown from a small custom butcher shop handling cattle and hogs for farmers in his grandparents’ day, to estab-
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lishing a wholesale division supplying two major regional retailers during the 1980s under the management of his late father, Richard, and uncles John, Stan and Ron. When those retailers sold out to larger companies, the family decided to buck the trend toward consolidation in the supply chain. “Instead of getting bigger and concentrating on supplying one or two larger customers, we began to feature our strength — lean, tender beef — and we also vertically integrated by adding a feedlot. In the mid-1990s we worked with a nutritionist to develop a custom ration for a whole-corn diet and have built our business on the lean and tender business.” The finishing ration includes whole corn grain with custom pellets containing minerals, vitamins and roughage to balance the diet. It is fed free choice with no addi-
tional hay or silage. The new ration effectively improved quality and consistency of the beef from the family’s feedlot and from other producers aligned with the Norpac program. It also positioned Norwich Packers to become the first processor to sign on with the Ontario Corn-Fed Beef program, launched by the Ontario Cattle Feeders Association in 2001. Today, the family feedlot finishes approximately 3,000 head a year, which represents about 20 per cent of the plant’s annual production. Leanness is assured by purchasing heavily muscled finished and feeder cattle, primarily Limousin, Lim-Flex (LimousinAngus cross), Belgian Blue and Blonde d’Aquitaine, from farms across Eastern Canada and the Prairies. While genetic selection has increased overall marbling in these exotic breeds,