1958. The legendary Corvette Stingray is introduced. Maurice Richard is named athlete of the year. Quebec’s total budget reaches $506 million. Today it’s 65 billion. That spring Benoit Beauregard, office clerk in a poultry-packing business, and his associate Guy Lauzon decide they want a bigger piece of the pie…a chicken pie. Together they scraped up $50,000, a huge amount at the time, buy a garage in Saint-Jean-Baptiste-de-Rouville in the Montérégie region, and turn it into a chicken processing facility. Québec Poultry is born.
The business wass the birthplace of the Flamingo brand and the starting point of a venture that became the spark that ignites the stellar rise of the Quebec poultry industry.
On exactly June 3, the Québec Poultry company launched with twenty employees. The hourly wage: $0.60. The young company started out bringing chickens, capons and turkeys to market. It produced 1.8 million kilos of poultry meat. In no time at all, Quebec Poultry’s sales grew at a rate of 25% a year, an enviable but brutal pace, requiring an enormous amount of labour.
The 60s boom
Starting in 1960, Québec Poultry continued to grow. The young company built a new slaughterhouse and processing facility in Berthierville.
The owners wrestled with the banks to obtain financing, finally convincing the most reticent.
Why not? Weren’t these the Go-Go years, where all kinds of dreams were being realized in Quebec? The early 60s saw the opening of the Champlain Bridge and Place Ville-Marie. The new Métro was on the horizon as was Expo 67. It was also a time when Quebecers starting going out in droves and discovering new restaurant chains.
The Québec Poultry partners would quickly catch on to this growing trend, particularly the newfound appetite for broiler hens, our famous BBQ chicken. In 1957, the Steinberg’s grocery chain sold 100,000 units a week. In 1964, propelled by the fast growing market, the company opened a third production facility in Quebec City. That same year the Flamingo name and its now famous logo become an officially registered trade mark. The name was inspired by exotic vacations Benoît Beauregard had taken in Florida. Also in 1964, the company, which had as voracious an appetite for growth as Quebecers had for chicken, acquired Berthier Packers Inc., whose owner, Maurice Touchette, became a shareholder in Québec Poultry.
In 1965, the company bought a 162-hectare (400-acre) poultry farm in Saint-Paul d’Abbotsford, near Granby. It became the biggest producer of hen and tom turkeys in Quebec. Québec Poultry also set up a poultry centre in Saint-Jean-Baptiste, a farm complex comprised of 12 buildings each accommodating 21,000 broiler hens, for which demand was exploding. The facility produced 1,250,000 birds per year.
Over the years, the Saint-Jean-Baptiste plant extended its network and other companies joined forces with this company that just kept getting stronger. Management would acquire other poultry farms and build a research and technical services lab. They grew their distribution network and became forerunners in the development of processed chicken products, which they had already quite presciently dubbed “ready to serve”. These included chicken and turkey rolls, cooked chicken, smoked chicken, and other delectable forms.
Real pioneers in the industry, they promoted the idea of eating well while saving time. In 1969, to top off a decade of success, Québec Poultry’s owners bought a shopping centre in Sainte-Rosalie and turned it into a poultry process meet facility. ln 1970, in the 10 years after its inauguration, Québec Poultry’s production went from 1.8 million kilos of poultry meat to over 68 million kilos.
In this short time the old garage in Saint-Jean-Baptiste-de-Rouville had grown into 5 plants and a number of large research and development farms. From 20 employees in 1958, the company now employed over 1250 at the dawn of the 1970s.
In 1958, while the company’s activities remained modest, its ambitions were anything but. In less than 12 years, Québec Poultry became the lightening rod of a new poultry industry. The Flamingo brand had the wind in its sails.
Enter La Coop fédérée
At the start of the 70s, the Coopérative fédérée de Québec (today La Coop fédérée)
was already an enormous cooperative organization active in a number of sectors. Quebec’s economic and demographic development prompted the Coop fédérée to modernize and consolidate its activities.
In 1975, the time was ripe. The acquisition of Québec Poultry by La Coop fédérée
enabled the company to grow its Quebec turkey and chicken market share from 12% to
50%. The Coop, which was already quite diversified, added to its two existing facilities in
Marieville and Saint-Félix-de-Valois five plants operated by Benoît Beauregard and his partners, namely those at Saint-Jean-Baptiste-de-Rouville, Sainte-Rosalie, Quebec City and two plants located in Berthierville. The Coop gave the poultry sector a huge shot in the arm while continuing to help Québec Poultry and its marquis Flamingo brand flourish.
While just 20 years earlier, in 1955, chicken producers were shipping 6.5 million broiler hens, this figure reached its peak in 1975 at 75 million birds. Now the owner of Québec Poultry, the Coop continued to intensify the automation of its processes as well as developing more and more value-added products.
In 1978, the Coop placed the entirety of its poultry production activities under a single management. Francization laws saw the Québec Poultry name disappear and the poultry producer became Bexel. Until 1985, the poultry division of La Coop fédérée
operated 4 slaughterhouses, a process meat facility, a distribution centre, a hatchery and several producing farms. Bexel acquired Galco Food Products Ltd., an Ontario processor, which helped it grow its presence in that province in a significant way.
In October 1991, the Coop and its Bexel poultry division purchased Tyson Canada, its biggest Quebec competitor. It obtained the two Iberville plants in addition to those in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Saint-Félix-de-Valois, Saint-Damase and Joliette as well as Marvid Poultry in Montreal. A number of producing farms and a feed mill came next.
Tyson Foods, an American company out of Arkansas, had already taken control of Agrimont, Quebec’s second largest poultry processor. Agrimont was the result of the 1987 merger of a half dozen slaughterhouse and butchering facilities in the Montreal area. With this acquisition, Bexel saw its Quebec share explode to 60% of the market. Its revenues topped $500 million and its staff reached a total of 2500 in Quebec and Ontario.
La Coop Fédérée’s new poultry division became for a short time Volailles Unival, then underwent a name change in 1993 to return to its roots and its celebrated brand, Aliments Flamingo. Little by little, the company disposed of its production quotas to focus its efforts in the processing field.
Benoit Beauregard, one of the founders of Québec Poultry and the Flamingo brand.
At this time new products were added to expand the company’s offering, including chicken wings, fillets and small cutlets under the Festi-Bouffe and Festi-Santé labels.
In February 1998, La Coop fédérée brought together all chicken and pork processing activity under a single manager, Olymel, a limited partnership created in 1991 that it owned. In 2001, SGF Soquia invested $50 million in Olymel for a 17% stake in the company. In 2004, when it sold the Supraliment family business to Olymel, Groupe Brochu acquired 20% of the Olymel limited partnership. Today La Coop fédérée remains the majority shareholder.
These new investments and subsequent developments strengthened Olymel’s position in the marketplace and its ability to promote its brands, particularly its Flamingo flagship.
A brand that’s withstood the test of time
Benoît Beauregard’s little pink flamingo from Florida has survived a lot of winters, more than a few changes, plenty of restructuring, a plant fire and even the Quebec-Ontario “chicken wars” that broke out in the mid-90s. It has also held its own against persistent competition.
Joining the Olymel family helped Flamingo make small improvements in order to adapt to changing market conditions and consumer demand.
In 2006, for instance, Olymel-Flamingo launched its new Nutrigo line of frozen poultry products, featuring chicken and turkey white breast meat developed by a team of nutritionists seeking improved flavour and nutritional qualities.
With the introduction of these new baked – not fried – products that were a good source of omega-3s and were low in saturated fat and had zero trans fat, Flamingo demonstrated that it could change with the times.
Throughout its history, the brand would be distinguished by the quality and variety of its products. Sticks, nuggets, fingers, strips, tenders, burgers, cutlets, grilled chicken, fried chicken pieces, low fat turkey cold cuts including cretons, bologna, roasts, rolls and loaves, and smoked turkey breast and fillets are all Flamingo varieties and all reasons for the brand’s enormous success with consumers.
Flamingo products have been honoured with numerous international awards, including SIAL Gold at the Salon de l’alimentation de Paris and the distinction of being named product of the year by Sodexo, a hotel, restaurant and institutional food services network.
The little pink flamingo, darling of the Quebec dinner table
Over the years, the Flamingo brand has in many ways become a symbol of excellence in chicken products and has earned a privileged place on Québécois dinner tables and in the family kitchen.
Since the 1960s, exposure on television has enabled the little pink bird to grow its volumes and gain an even bigger share of the family dinner menu as well as supermarket shelf space.
In the mass media era, sustained marketing efforts also increased awareness of the brand over the years. Its advertising history began at the end of 1960s with the “Chicken Convention” campaign, followed by the “Well Raised Chicken” platform.
Also on TV, well-known actress Juliette Huot had viewers’ mouths watering as she spoke of her love for a well-dressed bird. To this day, new product introductions have let Flamingo broaden its advertising activities, building campaigns around themes like “Farm to table”, “Nourishing your special moments”, “The celebration is served” and “Let every meal be a feast”.
Olymel and Flamingo
Going way back… together
By 2008, Olymel no longer operated any farms or possessed any production quotas.
The company processed 50% of Quebec-grown chickens and 70% of turkeys under its Flamingo brand.
Olymel and Flamingo are inseparable and together represent a major force in our modern, dynamic poultry industry. In just 20 years, Canadian chicken consumption has grown 80%. According to recent data, Canadians eat chicken products 8.4 times a month.
Flamingo will be there for them for a long time to come.
Olymel’s activities in the poultry sector are concentrated in slaughter, butchering, and primary and secondary processing for both the chicken and turkey segments.
Today, the the Flamingo brand keeps four slaughtering/butchering facilities and four other dedicated poultry processing plants busy. Flamingo products employ 3000 people directly.
The company’s facilities process 1.7 million birds weekly. On the supplier side, Olymel maintains close relationships with producers and ensures rigorous quality controls and traceability. It takes part in a number of research studies sponsored by La Coop fédérée, with a view to the continuous improvement of meat quality.
The company remains at the leading edge of conservation, handling and packaging technology. It carries out daily monitoring of its cold facilities, of employee health and safety as well as of the safety and quality of its products.
It has evolved into a complex, efficient organization at the service of the Flamingo brand.
Olymel upholds only the highest international standards in food safety. At this time, all of its facilities are HACCP certified, enabling risk analysis and control at critical points to be carried out, and the application of standards to be placed under the supervision of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Olymel-Flamingo has a research and development team composed of scientists, nutritionists and experts in microbiology and engineering. The company operates two in-facility applied research centres and collaborates regularly with outside research organizations.
Quality, from farm to customer to table
It was the vision of the poultry industry’s pioneering founders like Benoît Beauregard and his partners, the producers’ commitment to raising quality birds, the business savvy of La Coop fédérée and of its members and Olymel shareholders, the devotion, expertise and talent of its managers and staff – all of it together – that brought us to this celebration of our 60th anniversary today.
For 60 years now, every person associated with the Flamingo story has contributed to building a modern, lasting organization, one capable of spanning generations, of mastering change and of securing the loyalty and trust of its clients and consumers.
In a fast-changing world, there is never a shortage of challenges. The first is to maintain what has made Flamingo more than just a 60-year tradition, but a veritable symbol of quality.
Olymel’s responsibility is to support its Flamingo brand. In this context, Olymel views satisfying the demands of clients across Canada as a priority.
Whether they are large distribution or restaurant networks, each has its own needs when it comes to the cut, weight and presentation of its products.
The goal is to respond as quickly as possible to current consumer trends and tastes.
Today, meeting client expectations without compromising quality remains our number one objective all across the organization.
The best gift a brand like Flamingo could get on its anniversary is the recognition of its clients. Flamingo will begin its decades to come with the firm commitment to keeping these clients happy.