White meat or dark? That’s the eternal conundrum for many a diner sitting down to an elegant repast of a turkey dinner.
Though long associated with traditional North American holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, this versatile bird is no longer a once-in-a-blue-moon dish, as modern meat processing technologies have made it possible to turn turkey meat into a broad range of delicatessen-style meats and sausages, along with other lean, high-protein meal options produced by companies such as Hayter’s Turkey Products Inc. of Dashwood, Ont.
Located on a 3,000-plus-acre site just off the shores of Lake Huron, the third-generation, family-owned business employs about 60 people to raise over 120,000 turkey on its farmlands per year to process over 1.6 million kilograms of turkey meat, according to the company’s information technology and sales manager Sean Maguire, a grand-son of the company’s founder Harry Hayter, who began raising turkeys back in 1948.
Generating revenues of about $10 million last year, the company enjoys about a four-percent share of the Ontario market, Maguire estimates.
“Turkey is all we do,” Maguire told Canadian Packaging during a recent interview, describing the company as a “relatively small hands-on operation now owned and operated by Harry’s son and daughter, Tom Hayter and Joanne Maguire, my mother.”
Maguire attributes the company’s enviable longevity and steady growth to its relentless focus on high product quality and safety.
“In order for the company to have survived all of these years it was, and continues to be, imperative for us to produce turkey products with the highest levels of quality, taste, nutrition and freshness,” Maguire asserts. “By raising and processing all birds on this one site, we can ensure that the utmost care is given throughout the entire process.
“Housing up to 65,000 turkeys at any one time, we allow the birds to roam free within our 13 spacious, open-sided, well-ventilated buildings,” Maguire expands. “Not only do we do this because it’s a humane way to raise the birds, but also because it matters to our customers.”
Maguire explains that raising turkey in humane and comfortable natural surroundings—providing proper ventilation and temperature control, ample ranging space, quality bedding and feed, etc.—is key to maintaining sound bird health and raising a premium, high-grade bird.
“We are not a turkey factory,” Maguire points out. “We are proud to continue on with Harry’s devotion to his birds.”
When Hayter first began developing its early line of processed turkey product right in the Hayter family kitchen back in the 1970s, Maguire recalls, the company quickly established three core ground rules that it strictly observes to this day: the products must have great flavor; turkey farming must be a true labor of love; and the family should always be working together as one.
These days, Hayter’s business competes in three distinct product categories:
• Bagged whole birds, accounting for 29 per cent of its business:
• The so-called “canners,” i.e. whole birds shipped out in bulk to be further-processed by other food companies, accounting for 35 per cent of production;
• Pre-cut, further-processed turkey parts—breasts, drumsticks, wings, etc.—sold to foodservice operators and retail chains, making up the remaining 26 per cent.
According to Maguire, the company’s flagship Hayter’s Farm retail brand today comprises 20 different fresh turkey products and three prepared frozen-turkey entrées.
“We produce a full line of further-processed turkey items consisting of sausages, ground meat, marinated fillets, schnitzels, breast roasts and cutlets under the Hayter’s Farm brand label,” says Maguire, adding the company also manufactures some private-label turkey product for the Longo’s grocery outlets in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) region, where it’s retailed under the grocer’s Longo’s Signature Ultimate Turkey banner.
Along with being the sole supplier of turkey to Macgregor’s Meat & Seafood—serving a vast array of foodservice customers across Canada—Hayter’s products are currently distributed at over 30 retail grocery locations under its own brand; an additional 17 grocery locations under private-label banners; and through three major foodservice suppliers across Ontario.
Maguire notes that despite doing a lot of private-label business, 90 per cent of Hayter’s daily business is for its own brand.
While Hayter’s grain-fed birds are shipped primarily throughout Southern Ontario, Maguire says the company does export to the U.S. from time to time meeting seasonal market demand there.
While being able to consistently supply a tasty premium product remains the cornerstone of Hayter’s success, Maguire says the company fully appreciates the marketing importance of being able to make its retail products stand out on the store-shelves.
Which is why, he explains, the company recently purchased a new model T 700 tray-sealer manufactured by German-based food packaging systems specialists Multivac Sepp Haggenmuller Gmbh & Co. KG., distributed here by its Multivac Canada Inc. subsidiary of Woodbridge, Ont.
Hayter’s utilizes Carlisle Technology’s software and Motorola Solutions handheld scanners to track its inventory through its plant, along with a SmartDate 5 coder from Markem-Imaje (inset) to apply best-before dates onto the product labels.
Maguire says Hayter’s uses the T 700 to do two different types of packaging—MAP (modified-atmosphere packaging) formats and the Isopak film vacuum skin packaging (VSP) packs, whereby the plastic film is sucked around both the product and the outside tray to form a unique-looking package with enhanced barrier protection properties.
Since its installation this past March, the T 700 tray-sealer has worked extremely well in Hayter’s packaging operation, Maguire relates.
“Relatively speaking, it was an out-of-the-box solution that was quickly up-and-running with little disruption to our production,” Maguire recalls.
“We are completely satisfied with its performance thus far,” he says, adding that the new machine enabled Hayter’s to boost its output rate from 500 to 600 trays per hour (tph) up to 1,500-tph and beyond, if necessary.
“We’ve now got the T 700 running at a rate of 1,500 tph while MAP lid-sealing our plastic polypropylene (PP) black trays, and we run at a speed of about 1,000 tph with the Isopak tooling,” Maguire relates, also citing a 1,200-tph throughput rate for its aluminum-foil tray packaging.
“These numbers are just our starting point, and we haven’t even begun to push the machine to its limits.”
Maguire reveals that Hayter’s purchases the film for its Isopak VSP lidding done by the T 700
from Curwood, Inc., a part of the Bemis Company, Inc., while sourcing its regular, moisture-resistant, oxygen-barrier film for its PP black trays from Norstar Packaging, and the film for its aluminum-foil trays from the U.K.-based KM Packaging.
The Cryovac Div. of Sealed Air Corporation supplies the PP black trays, he adds, while Nichol Food Packaging supplies the preformed aluminum foil trays.
“The foil trays we are using have unique attributes: they are oven-, microwave- and BBQ-ready, as well as being reusable and recyclable,” he points out.
Says Maguire: “The key to any fresh protein product is getting it to market as quickly as possible to maximize its shelf-life, while providing a unique look on the store-shelves.
“We feel the T 700 will greatly aid us when we increase our tray sealing capacity to accommodate our growth in the further processing market,”
The fully-automatic, stainless-steel T 700 tray-sealer provides a superior hygienic design with full inside and outside washdown capability, notes Maguire, with its easily-removable conveyor belts providing generous access space for thorough cleaning of all the machine parts.
Hayter’s Turkey Products information technology and sales manager Sean Maguire shows off a MAP-sealed package of turkey sausages labeled by the model Posi-200 labeling system from Koch Equipment.
States Maguire: “We are extremely happy with the performance and design of our T 700 tray-sealer.
“As far as food safety is concerned, it’s a dream machine to clean with its washdown compatibility and easy access to all the surfaces, requiring a total cleaning time of just about one hour,” he notes.
Maguire says he also likes the T 700 because it’s easy to operate with its user-friendly interactive process control systems and is capable of storing up to 200 packaging programs, along with all the handy illustrations and videos to facilitate intuitive operation.
“The program memory helps saves us a lot of time,” notes Maguire. “Even the way we program in the settings is quick—we enter the output rate we want, and then the machine coordinates all process sequences, traversing and gripping movements accordingly.”
According to Multivac, the T 700 maximizes its process reliability and its production output by minimizing lifting, traversing and gripping movements, while synchronizing these processes with its electric drive technology to cut cycling times.
Maguire adds he was highly impressed by the top-notch service provided by the Multivac Canada personnel.
“They were prompt, effective and reliable—spending a full week on-site to commission and train us on the new equipment, while never making it feel like it was a chore,” he recounts. “They were even nice enough to send a technician out until we were completely satisfied with the machine’s performance.”
To take care of its product labeling and coding requirements, Hayter’s uses the Posi-200 Top and Bottom Automatic Package Labeling System from Koch Equipment LLC to affix pressure-sensitive labels to the top and/or bottom of flexible packages, rigid MAP trays, boxes and other packaging, along with a SmartDate 5 coder from Markem-Imaje to apply best-before dates onto each label.
Another high-tech solution utilized by Hayter’s is its new Symphony – Plant Productivity Suite software—developed by Burlington, Ont.-based Carlisle Technology—which uses scanned barcodes for seamless tracking of inventory throughout the plant, utilizing the Symbol range of handheld barcode scanners from Motorola Solutions USA to scan barcoded labels at the weighing/labeling scale stations.
“The system has enabled us to meet our traceability requirements for our food safety initiatives,” reveals Maguire. “We began using Carlisle’s services back in 2002, and they became our exclusive software provider in 2007 when we upgraded to the full suite.”
“The Carlisle software’s user interface is Web-based, which gives us the flexibility to examine the data within the program from a variety of electronic devices such as from PCs, laptops, smart phones or tablets—from anywhere with an Internet connection,” says Maguire, adding that employing the most advanced technology in its packaging operations to compete with not only other turkey processors, but also the more mainstream meat choices available to Canadian consumers.
“Our major competition is chicken, beef and pork,” states Maguire. “We constantly ‘fight’ to see turkey as its own category in the meat departments across Ontario.
“Turkey is the only mainstream protein that is on the ‘Super Foods’ lists of health experts, which helps back up what a great choice it is,” he states. “And, as more people become better educated and aware of what they feed themselves and their children, turkey will naturally gravitate to the top of those lists.
“It hasn’t been an easy business to find success in: it’s hard to soar when you’re working with turkeys,” he chuckles.
“But seriously, by keeping our focus and passion for sharing our family traditions we have found
that the meat market is starving for a healthy alternative and a quality product,” he concludes. “We just need to continue making it more accessible to the consumers.”
PHOTOS BY DARLENE O’ROURKE