Canadian Packaging

Cut to the Chase

George Guidoni   

Enterprising New Brunswick deli-meats processor doubles down on thermoform packaging to drive future market growth

As the most popular topping on one of the world’s most popular dishes, sliced pepperoni is a genuine contender for being one of the most enduring and beloved cured sausage meats ever invented.

Made from ground beef and pork—and seasoned with salt, paprika, garlic and other flavorful seasonings—the tasty, zesty and tangy can be found on many of the estimated five billion pizzas consumed around the world each year.

Coupled with its mainstream popularity as an enjoyable stand-alone snack or as an integral part of fancy charcuterie spreads, cheese boards and antipasto platters, this chewy Italian-American invention has become a perennial crowd-pleaser across North America over the decades.

With an estimated 250 million pounds of pepperoni consumed each year in the U.S. alone, its remarkable mass appeal is even celebrated with a dedicated National Pepperoni Day on every September 20 south of the border.


Here in Canada, pepperoni is also a must-have item in the product portfolio of just about every meat processor specializing in the production of deli meats and cold-cuts, including Bonté Foods Limited of Dieppe, N.B.

Operating out of the same 66,000-square-foot facility for the last 46 years, albeit continuously expanded and retrofitted over the years, Atlantic Canada’s largest deli-meats manufacturer produces over 150 food products for the food-service, grocer-retail and institutional markets, including pepperoni, salami, ham, bologna, pastrami, donairs, gyro meat, pizza sauces, and many other popular food items.

Nowadays producing and packing about 85,000 kilograms of product per week, the company’s varied product portfolio comprises more than 150 SKUs (stock-keeping units), according to vice-president of operations Rob Higgins.

In addition, Bonté Foods markets a comprehensive line of high-quality sauces, condiments and RTE (ready-to-eat) meals that are co-packed for it offsite under the company’s brand labels and distributed throughout Canada.

“Being centrally located in the Maritimes makes it easy to ship our products within Atlantic Canada, Higgins says, “and it’s also a perfect location for exporting to the U.S.”

Having joined Bonté Foods 20 years ago, Higgins has been actively involved in numerous facility and equipment upgrades and capital investments that have enabled the one-time niche food manufacturer to evolve into a highly diversified and well-respected player in the Canadian meat-processing industry.

“In 2005, Bonté acquired Chris Brothers, who operated a federal plant in Nova Scotia and was well-known for their snack pepperoni,” Higgins relates.

“This purchase started Bonté down a more focused business approach on meat production with decision to discontinue sauce and bakery production in-house and securing co-packers for these items,” Higgins continues.

“The focused approach has been a successful,” he asserts, “with Bonté now enjoying a very strong retail deli presence in Atlantic Canada, complemented by national food-service sales across Canada.

“In 2020 Bonté was acquired by ADP Direct Poultry in a move intended to diversify their existing chicken processing facilities in Ontario,” says Higgins, noting that it also allowed Bonté Foods to expand its offering of poultry-based meat products.

“Our raw products, including some packaging, are sourced locally when possible,” Higgins points out. “If something is not available locally, we source it from within Canada whenever possible.

“Our raw processing side runs five days per week,” says Higgins, “and our RTE operations runs seven days per week.

“Our busiest time of the year is from November through January,” he relates, “as this is when consumers tend to entertain and eat more.

“We know this going into this period, so we ramp up production in September and October to help out with this production increase.”

As Higgins relates, some of the more popular foodservice industry products produced at the Dieppe plant include bulk-sized Donair and Gyro cones (made in 10-, 15- and 20-pound versions); cooked beef toppings (in 2.5- and five-kilogram portions); and a variety of cooked sliced pepperoni and salami shipped in five-kilogram packs.

On retail side of the business—comprising the company’s flagship Chris Brothers and Bonté brand labels—the plant makes a broad variety of sliced deli meats and donair slices in portions ranging from 150 to 375 grams.

“Our two highest-selling branded SKUs are our Pizza Variety Valu Pak and our 1.5-kilogram Wax Style Bologna,” Higgins reveals.

“Our Pizza Variety Valu Pak is a 175-gram vacuum pack containing pepperoni, salami and ham,” Higgins states. “It has been a key retail product for us for several years.”

Two of the plant’s three slicing lines are primarily used to make retail products, Higgins explains, with the third slicer dedicated to food-service production.

“We also have a bulk pack-off area where we pack our beef toppings and any whole pepperoni, salami and bologna sticks,” he relates.

“In the raw meat department we have an automatic linking and hanging line, an automatic pan oiler, and an automated label applicator in the RTE area on the new RE 25 thermoform packaging machine we recently bought from Reiser,” adds Higgins, hailing the recent arrival of the spanking new Reiser RE 25 horizontal form/fill/seal thermoform packaging machine onto the factory floor.

Commissioned and started up earlier this year with the assistance of local Reiser Canada sales rep Jean Collette, the new state-of-the-art Reiser RE25 is actually the second Reiser thermoformer at the Dieppe facility, which installed the earlier-generation Reiser RE20 rollstock machine supplied to the plant by Reiser back in 2011.

While that machine is still performing admirably, the new Reiser RE25 has been a real game changer for the plant, according to Higgins.

“We have several pieces of equipment from Reiser, but I have to say the one that has made the fastest impact has been the most recent purchase of the RE25,” he states.

“The new RE25 purchase replaced an aging rollstock machine,” he says, “and it has exceeded our expectations.

“This (RE25) line is by far our busiest line,” Higgins states.

“It packages about 85 per cent of our retail sliced deli meats, and we have seen an overnight increase in output of almost 20 per cent coming off this line, with packages that look better and have great seals and consistent vacuum.

“This has been huge for us, as it gives us plenty of room to grow,” says Higgins, while lauding the excellent service and support provided by Reiser throughout and following the installation.

“We had a tight installation timeline on this, so we actually went to test the RE25 at Reiser’s headquarters facility in Canton, Ma., and their team was exceptionally professional and knowledgeable.”

Such endorsement is naturally music to the ears of Collette, who points out that Reiser was also the key supplier and integrator for the two high-performance Seydelmann grinders for Dieppe plant’s processing area.

“We have always had a good long-standing relationship with Bonté and Rob Higgins,” Collette says. “We have always worked to support them when called upon, and we are happy to do this as a good partner.

“The equipment was installed within a tight-time frame,” Collette points out, “so we relied on good communication and planning on both sides.

“We worked together with Bonté and had our people on-site for the duration of the project to make sure everything went as planned,” Collette relates.

“It was important that we listened to what Bonté needed and that we provided the correct solution and startup.

“Our service department made sure we delivered on this, providing Bonté with a high-quality solution to update their packaging.”

Higgins agrees: “The installation was on schedule and without any issues—thanks to our maintenance team and Reiser’s personnel.

“We are proud to be a BRCGS AA+ (Retail British Consortium Global Standards)-rated plant,” Higgins points out. “We made the decision to start with unannounced audits three years ago as we felt it would challenge us to be better,” he explains, “and we have held on to the AA+ rating every year since.

“We have also been Halal-certified since 2017,” Higgins adds.

Such attention to product quality and consumer trends have certainly served Bonté Foods well in its journey to become ‘Atlantic Canada’s Deli,’ as the company’s logo tagline proclaims.

“Although we have a few national listings, our retail presence is most predominant in Atlantic Canada, where you can find our deli meats and donair packaged under Chris Brothers and Bonté brands,” Higgins relates.

“On the food-service side, we sell sliced cooked pepperoni and salami, donair cones and cooked beef topping to distributors across Canada,” says Higgins, adding that retail products account for about 60 per cent of the plant’s production volumes.

“Brand recognition is one of our biggest strengths,” Higgins says, “and being smaller than most of our key competitors allows us to be flexible and responsive to our customers’ and consumers’ needs.”

According to Higgins, the high-quality vacuum-packing and MAP (modified atmosphere packaging) capabilities enabled by the Reiser-supplied equipment will play key role in the company’s further growth in the marketplace.

“Obviously, from a marketing and presentation perspective the packaging is the customers’ first impression of your product,” he says, “and that will help drive out sales going forward.

“But beyond that, and perhaps more importantly, it plays an important role in shelf-life and food safety, and you need the right packing materials and the right equipment for your products.”

According to Higgins, Bonté Foods has those angles well covered through long-standing partnerships with leading materials and machinery suppliers such as Reiser, Poly-Clip, Winpak and Master Packaging, among others.

As he sums up, “We view all our key suppliers as true partners, and we strongly believe in utilizing their expertise to grow our business.”


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