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Burnaby dairy plant Saputo milks COVID-19 for profit surge

Company says it sees COVID as an 'opportunity'

Got milk?

Apparently a lot of people do because dairy has surged during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dairy processor Saputo in Burnaby is reporting strong retail sales as the COVID-19 pandemic alters consumer buying patterns.

The company, which operates its plant on a 20-acre parcel of land at Lougheed Highway and Sperling, but has outlets across the country, said Thursday that it has seen a surge in its third-quarter profit as sales at grocery stores outweighed weak demand from restaurants, cafeterias and other foodservice costumers.

The dairy processor and cheese manufacturer said its profit climbed 6.1% to $209.8 million, up from $197.8 million in the same quarter a year earlier, even as its revenue edged lower.

"For the first time since the pandemic started, our volumes were on par with last year," Lino Saputo Jr., Saputo's board chairman and CEO, told analysts during a conference call. 

"Thanks to our strong portfolio of retail brands and by adapting our product offering early on in the pandemic, we captured new opportunities in the retail market segment," he said. "We also benefited from increased sales volumes in the industrial markets."

The global dairy giant is also expanding its foray into non-dairy cheese and dairy alternative products.

"The category today is very small but the potential we feel is tremendous," Kai Bockmann, Saputo president and chief operating officer, told investors. 

Non-dairy cheese has relatively few players, he said, and Saputo is "uniquely positioned" in the global marketplace to dominate the field through its product innovation and brand strength. 

Indeed, Saputo has continued to explore new products and market expansion throughout the pandemic.

"We don't use COVID as an excuse to stop progressing," Saputo Jr. said. "COVID gives us an opportunity to think about things that we would never have ever thought of before." 

Saputo has big changes planned for the Burnaby plant after selling it and the land for more than $200 million. It plans on moving the plant out of Burnaby at some point. A developer has purchased the property.

Saputo said the profit amounted to 51 cents per diluted share for the quarter ended Dec. 31, up from a profit of 48 cents per diluted share a year earlier.

Revenue for the quarter totalled $3.76 billion, down from $3.89 billion.

The company said overall sales volumes reached similar levels compared with the same period a year ago as increased volumes in the retail and industrial market segments offset lower volumes on the food service side of the business.

On an adjusted basis, Saputo said it earned 55 cents per diluted share, down from an adjusted profit of 56 cents per diluted share a year earlier.

Analysts on average had expected an adjusted profit of 48 cents per share and $3.85 billion in revenue, according to financial data firm Refinitiv.

Saputo delivered solid results ahead of forecast and expectations despite substantial operating challenges, Irene Nattel, an RBC Dominion Securities Inc. analyst, said in a note to clients.

"The release also calls out ongoing interest in seizing future acquisition opportunities, and also reiterates commitment to pursuing opportunities in dairy alternatives (previously known as plant-based)," she said. 

  • With files from The Canadian Press