Weston Foods investing in innovation

by Eric Schroeder
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TORONTO — Driving volume and volume performance continue to be instrumental in George Weston Ltd.’s efforts to generate momentum in its Weston Foods business, said Pavi Binning, president of George Weston, in a July 30 conference call with analysts to discuss second-quarter results.

“Innovation is one of the areas where we are investing with a view to driving that growth,” Mr. Binning said. “There are some good examples out there in terms of the gluten-free products that we’ve launched, (and) the flatbreads.”

The gluten-free products include All But Gluten baked goods, which were introduced in late April.

Manufactured in a dedicated gluten-free facility, the baked goods meet Health Canada’s gluten-free regulations and are certified by the Canadian Celiac Association’s Gluten-Free Certification Program. The line includes whole grain loaf, cinnamon raisin loaf, sliced white loaf, roasted onion focaccia, rosemary focaccia, plain pizza shells, carrot raisin morning muffins, mini brownies and coconut macaroons.

The new flatbreads are marketed under the Flat Oven Bakery brand and are available in naan, wraps, pitas, chapati roti and barbari flatbread.

Jairo Senise, president of Weston Foods, underscored the importance of innovation during the call, saying it has become a “commandment” for the company.

“In creating the culture we did several things inside the company, like (creating an) internal web site where any employee can provide ideas and information about products, ideas, or services, or any other kind of innovation that we can do, where we can construct the idea by the minute if it’s possible, because everybody is on-line on these ideas,” Mr. Senise said.

Weston Foods also has an innovation steering committee, which Mr. Senise said he is a part of. In addition to gluten-free and flatbread products, the committee is looking to innovate with more value-added type products. Examples include Country Harvest products with special grains and the recent launch of the D’Italiano brand.

As important as innovation is, Weston Foods also is open to expanding through mergers and acquisitions.

Asked about the size of the company’s “war chest,” Mr. Binning said the company has “a significant cash balance” at George Weston Ltd., and to a lesser degree for Weston Foods.

“We will have capital available for Weston Foods to make small acquisitions in growth areas, but the amount that we make available will be limited so that we do maintain this strong cash position at the group level,” he said. “Obviously, Weston Foods generates cash as well and we’re happy to invest that back into the business as well.”

Specifically, Mr. Binning mentioned the health and wellness space as being an “attractive” area of focus for any potential Weston Foods acquisition targets.

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