Purchase of Island abattoir an aspect of brand-building for French River Cattle Co.

New owners will continue to service Island farmers

PROVIDENCE BAY – The Manitoulin Island Community Abattoir (MICA) is no more, long live the Limestone Island Abattoir. After sitting on the market for nearly a year, the abattoir in Providence Bay has been sold by the volunteer board to interests headed up by George McGaffin and Andy Stronach (son of auto parts billionaire Frank Stronach) and partners in the French River Cattle Company.

“It will be business as usual,” said Mr. McGaffin of abattoir operations following the sale, but the company hopes to encourage more local producers to “fatten cattle, lambs, whatever” for retail sale. While the abattoir currently does not cut and wrap product, Mr. McGaffin said that service was high on the priority list going forward. “Stage two will be getting into the process of cutting and wrapping.”

The sale was only 15 days out from closing on Monday, but the partners had already had one consultant in to review the business and more are planned for down the road. “We are gathering opinions in preparation for formulating a business plan,” said Mr. McGaffin. The duo is hoping to have the way forward well mapped out in order to implement things “the first two quarters of next year.”

“I think that it is important that we will be developing the brand of our own beef and bison, but we don’t want to neglect the people for whom this facility was built,” he said, adding that even if it would simply be to sell to friends and neighbours, getting more farmers into finishing beef would have a positive impact. Building an Island brand would bring a lot to the table for Manitoulin producers.

“Manitoulin Island is known for so many things,” noted Mr. McGaffin. “That’s why we named our company Limestone Island Abattoir, because the Island is limestone.”

“You can’t give people smoke and mirrors these days,” he said, noting the importance of authenticity in today’s market. “You can’t just put up a couple of arches and say it’s Canadian beef.”

Currently, the abattoir is experiencing an “upside down” financial profile, said Mr. McGaffin. “That’s why we were able to buy the operation. Job one is going to be putting that to rights. You can’t just fix everything by throwing money at it.”

The MICA board had a significant challenge in managing an abattoir, something with which Mr. McGaffin said he could sympathize. “It’s a big ask (of a volunteer board),” he said. “You have six different opinions around the table and every opinion has to be respected, everyone is a volunteer.” Inevitably, some of the board members would want to make decisions based on emotions rather than a solid business case. Passion, while it can be a powerful driving force, is rarely the best arbiter of commerce.