Highbury Canco (Highbury) is an industry leader in both co-packing and third party logistics. Their 2.1MM Square Foot Facility, coupled with 31 production lines, a semi-automated warehouse and a results oriented supply chain team give Highbury the capacity to manage large integrated manufacturing projects for food and beverage products while delivering the consistency that their brands deserve.
Formerly operating as the Heinz facility, Heinz officially closed on June 27th 2014. On July 1st, Highbury Canco opened its doors for business. The following day, Highbury shipped 50 truckloads of product out their backdoor; a high accomplishment executed by a truly strong team. Presently, Highbury is producing a significant amount of product in their factory daily and also acts as the third party logistics and warehouse provider for Heinz in Canada, shipping products from coast to coast.
Sam Diab, President and CEO of Highbury Canco, and three other Ontario based investors, acquired the site from Heinz. Diab essentially grew up around the food industry and spent ten years with Heinz, starting off in contract manufacturing, purchasing, supply chain, customer service, production planning and management, warehouse and logistics roles. He also spent some time in Pittsburgh with Heinz Corporate doing commodity risk management. In his last role with Heinz, Diab was the general management for the facility. “With the facility closing, we saw an opportunity to create some jobs, produce and distribute some products for Heinz as well as become a producer of our own products.” says Diab.
As for its name, Highbury Canco was derived by Diab who played around with combinations of words; “canco” to represent the canning industry as well as being a national company while “Highbury” was a name that was used in other trades but Diab combined the two together and the name stuck.
The facility is situated on 46 acres in the heart of Leamington Ontario. In their first round of hiring, Highbury hired 250 employees directly from the 640 Heinz employees or so that were impacted by the closure. “Since then we’ve grown significantly, says Diab. “We currently have 315 employees and we are in the process of recruiting another ten. We will continue to grow steadily as we secure more business and more volume.”
Highbury has capabilities to produce a vast portfolio of products that include: beans, pasta, soup, tomato-based dips and sauces, tomato juice, mayonnaise, BBQ sauce and steak sauce, to name a few. “In the manufacturing side we are vertically integrated within our tomato supply chain”, says Diab.“We process fresh tomatoes in our facility to tomato paste, tomato juiceand other tomato based products.”
Highbury also produces various condiments, dry cereals, dips and salad dressings. Due to the versatility and automation of the facility, the breadth of products manufactured is quite extensive. “We are also working to modernize some of our capabilities which will take place over the next three years,” says Diab. “We are focusing on more innovative packaging solutions as well.”
While Highbury continues to manufacture original Heinz products, they also do a significant amount of research and development for their own products and recipes to expand their business and present a selection of Highbury proprietary products to offer to the market. “We’re looking at innovative opportunities to put products in the market that are different and what consumers are looking for,” says Diab.“We try to come up with products that fill a necessity.”
Today’s savvy consumers are better informed and it is important for them to know where their food is coming from. “We’re fortunate to be rooted locally in a heavy agricultural area. We have access to the raw materials that we need to make the finished goods that people are after,” says Diab. “People want products that are minimally processed, and people want to know where their food comes from.”
For Highbury, the quality and safety of their products is paramount. A team of experienced quality professionals monitor all facets of product preparation 24 hours a day. “There are important controls required when you are making food in a large factory with manufacturing practices and monitoring the day to day activity within the facility,” says Diab.“Things like personal hygiene and uniforms all tie into our Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) program. It’s important not to be complacent so that we consistently deliver the consistency and quality that our consumer wants.”
From the receipt of quality raw materials to the release of products for shipping, Highbury makes certain that their foods consistently exceed customer expectations for quality and food safety. As a Canadian Food Inspection Agency registered processor and by systematically assessing and controlling risk, Highbury ensures all products meet strict food safety controls. Adherence to industry standard guarantees foods are wholesome and pure.
Highbury is working to take advantage of opportunities to provide convenient products to people that don’t have the time to make them from scratch on their own but really mimic what they could create from home. “Sadly, the domestic supply of many products have disappeared in our marketplace over time”, says Diab. “Some products that remain pantry staples in most kitchens are now generally produced abroad and imported into Canada.”
Highbury recognizes that the development of new products is essential for growing their business. Their product innovation specialists work closely with a full range of product development needs to ensure new products will meet or exceed functional and taste requirements.“We look at ourselves as the industry experts,” says Diab.“We know what it takes to make and ship food in Canada as well as abroad and we know how to do it well.As a small company, we are quite nimble and able to move quickly and make things happen with large customers and their expectations.”
It’s all about growth at Highbury. In their first six to eight months of operation, they greatly focused on stabilizing the facility, the workforce and the products that they currently have under contract during a rather big undertaking in a short span of time. “We’re now in a position where we are actively pursuing growth and many avenues for private label manufacturing, co-packing and our own branded products,” says Diab. This will allow Highbury to create more jobs, further stabilize the business and hopefully add value to the community.
Highbury currently employs 315 workers and is looking to hire 10 more at the Leamington tomato processing plant. “In our hiring process, it’s really important to find people that can think on their own and are able to work somewhat autonomously,” says Diab. “With this being the food industry, you want your employees upon walking into the facility, to feel like their walking into their own kitchen and have those high standards for themselves and for the people around them.”
Highbury is proud to be a family-oriented company and encourages people with those same values. “Being in a challenged environment from a cost perspective, it’s important for us to hire people who come into a work and want to make a difference, want to improve and are willing to adapt to change,” says Diab.
In less than a year’s time Highbury successfully continues to manufacture some of Canada’s favorite products and is projected to grow with their existing brands as well as new products in the years to come.“While we’ve made some tremendous progress thus far, we continue to look forward to growing this business to the footprint that this facility once was,” says Diab.