At duBreton Farms, many of its pigs roam free in open barns, don’t receive antibiotics, make their own straw beds and play with toys. It’s all part of a philosophy that happy pigs make for tastier pork.
That’s important for a company that specializes in more expensive fare, such as organic pork and rustic farm pork, rather than conventional meat products.
Globalization and strong competition led duBreton to do things differently, says president Vincent Breton. “In fewer than 10 years, we’ve become among the largest producers and transformers of organic products in North America.” DuBreton now exports about 80 per cent of its pork products to more than 40 countries, especially the United States, Japan and Australia.
With more than 550 employees, duBreton is a major division of St. Bernard, Quebec’s Aliments Breton Foods Canada, which was launched in 1944 by husband and wife farmers Napoléon and Adrienne Breton. The company is now run by the family’s third generation.
DuBreton exports some 80% of its pork products to more than 40 countries.
The decision to move away from conventional pork products and to develop value-added specialty niches “has been a determining factor for duBreton’s future,” Breton says. Quebec’s production costs – among the highest in North America – made it imperative to explore new markets that would be receptive to specialty products, he adds.
“Exporting is also essential for duBreton because it allows us to sell all animal parts, depending on the market. Almost all pork parts can be used and transformed.”
Breton notes that while traditional farming methods are becoming increasingly rare in the industry, the company opted to return to and place greater importance on these practices.
No to antibiotics, yes to toys
Unlike conventional hog farming, pigs at duBreton are raised without antibiotics, a more expensive option because it takes 15 days longer for them to reach maturity. The pigs are also fed with vegetable grains, which cost more than animal by-products.
Most of its competitors raise sows in cages equipped with bars that restrict their movement but simplify industrial production. At duBreton, the natural behaviour of pigs, raised for its rustic farm pork, is respected by allowing them to move freely in open barns and to carry out their nesting habits with straw. Hanging chain toys and other distractions keep the animals entertained and prevent aggression.
Such moves have resulted in pork that tastes the way it is meant to, the company says. As USA Today put it: “From conception to slaughter, a duBreton pig is treated with respect. The result? Succulent, flavourful, new-fashioned pork.”
The changes have attracted major American clients like the Whole Foods Market and Wegmans grocery chain –both of which focus on organic foods –and the high-end fast food chain Chipotle Mexican Grill.
Breton advises other exporters to view themselves as global enterprises – even if that’s not the case. “Customers shouldn’t feel that they’re dealing with foreigners. You have to provide the same level of service as you would locally and hide all the complex details that allow your goods to reach their international destinations.”
How EDC Helps
Breton says the company took the chance of selling some of its specialty products to a major international client that was unfamiliar to them, thanks to EDC’s accounts receivable insurance. “This improved our performance in this very specialized sector.”
He says EDC support also reassures financial institutions and makes them more open to providing needed investments in the company’s new products.
“EDC people have been part of the solution in helping us develop our markets,” Breton says. “They’re always interested in working with us to help us find products of theirs that fit well with our market development activities.”