COVID-19: Yeast production facility in Calgary rising to the challenge

By Alanna Smith – Calgary Herald – Sunday, April 5, 2020

A local yeast plant has risen to the occasion to meet a spike in demand related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With yeast at the heart of the bread-making process and loaves flying off the shelves, Calgary’s AB Mauri factory in the city’s southeast has operated at 25 per cent over capacity to bring its product to stores across North America.

Plant manager Gerald Ripley said the initial spike in demand took place mid-March and is only now starting to return to normal.

“When things (non-essential businesses) started shutting down, it was an initial panic buy,” Ripley says of the yeast shortage. “People went to the grocery store and saw empty shelves so they started buying a bit extra, like fresh bread.”

With people doing more cooking and eating at home, the demand for products such as bread has increased. Additionally, with a growing number of people isolated at home and finding they have time on their hands, baking bread has become a popular pursuit.

Yeast is one of the key ingredients needed to bake bread, but most people aren’t aware how crucial the Calgary facility is in ensuring shelves are stocked with the product.

”“For our plant here in Calgary, we cover all of western Canada from Manitoba to Vancouver and the Pacific northwest U.S. down to northern California.”

The facility produces the well-known AB Mauri brand, Fleischmann’s Yeast, which is supplied to large industrial bakeries, medium-sized businesses and smaller artisan or mom and pop shops. It supplies over 90 per cent of yeast, creamed or packaged, for the Alberta and B.C. market.

On a weekly basis, the facility’s yeast supports the making of roughly two million loaves of bread or rolls in Alberta.

“If you take that on an annual scale, it scales up to 928 million loaves of bread per year and if you put each loaf of bread end-to-end it would be enough to go around the Earth seven times,” said Ripley.

He said running a yeast manufacturing plant at 25 per cent over capacity is not something they could sustain. Fortunately the plant was able to meet the initial demand and has since seen it average out with consumers returning to more normal buying patterns.

“Our plant has always run at close to 100 per cent capacity,” said Ripley. “What’s important here, for our Calgary operation, is being a key, essential business that supports the food chain within the country … Our plant runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”

With respect to COVID-19, Ripley said his employees are taking extra measures to ensure the safety of themselves and clients.

Physical distancing has been enforced, in addition to increased hand-washing practices and communications with all of their service providers to ensure the product gets delivered safely. Electrostatic cleaning has also been implemented in the facility.

“Being a food plant, sanitization is always at a high level. It’s just a matter of taking that to the next level and reinforcing that throughout the entire facility,” explained Ripley, who has worked there for 17 years. “Employees are proud to be here supporting the businesses and the food supply chain.”

The AB Mauri facility employs 35 people, both salary and hourly, and Ripley.