Marian and Mary Heleniak emigrated from Poland to Canada after World War II, seeking new opportunities for their family. In 1954, the couple purchased Norwich Packers (Norpac), a small meat packing business in Ontario. For the first 20 years that the Heleniak family operated the company, Norpac continued to serve local farmers as a small, local butcher business. The team processed cattle and hogs that would later be sold in local markets.
In 1974, The Heleniaks turned management over to the next generation. Marian and Mary’s son, Richard Heleniak, took over as president, soon joined by brothers John and Stan Heleniak, who stepped up to manage production and procurement for the business.
In 1981, the fourth Heleniak brother, Ron, joined the management team. Furthermore, Richard’s son, Matt, has been involved with the business since he was 6 years old. Today, he serves as the company’s vice president.
“Through my father and uncles’ efforts, the business grew exponentially in the ‘80s and ‘90s,” Matt explains. “Once they got large enough to really compete with the big businesses, they had to decide whether to take them head on or vertically integrate Norpac. They decided to vertically integrate and started a cattle feeding operation. We are still not trying to compete against corporations. We like the size we are now and we will continue to focus on being good at what we do.”
Norpac processes a range of value-added products and fine cuts of meat. The product line includes, but is not limited to, whole muscle cuts, like tenderloins and striploins, as well as portioned steaks, sweet pickled brisket, beef sausages, all-beef franks and dry-aged beef on the rail.
The state-of-the-art, 15,000-square-foot facility provides space for storage, cutting and processing. Appearance, flavor, food safety and attention to detail are priorities for the team, which ranges from 45 to 65 employees. Boxed products are vacuum sealed to hold flavor and freshness when products go out to market.
The company serves the higher end of the beef market with customers, including: steakhouses, distributors, butchers and independent grocers throughout Ontario. While the business has a strong and growing market share, Norpac remains dedicated to staying regional.
“We have a core group of farmers who we buy our cattle from,” Matt notes. “We work through the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association to source quality, local product.”
The Heleniaks also produce 20 percent of the company’s cattle on the family farm. Norpac takes great pride in raising healthy animals, feeding cattle custom-made vegetarian feed and checking animals to monitor herd health twice daily. The remaining 80 percent is acquired from regional farmers who are dedicated to high-quality, humane practices that provide the business with a consistent source for premier beef.
The team’s dedication to quality and value has sustained a strong market share throughout the years. While there are always ups and downs in the industry, Matt says that the economic dip in 2008 affected consumer buying patterns and the business had to adapt.
“Beef is a luxury item,” he explains. “In 2008, there was a drastic switch from people buying steak to buying lower cost items, such as hamburger meat. The market is starting to come back, but it is not what it was before and still remains a bit stagnant.”
Aside from consumer trends, several other factors have made it harder to maintain margins. Fuel and power costs have been on the rise, increasing overhead and transportation costs. To counter these challenges, Norpac has been working to improve internal efficiencies over the last few years. “We have adjusted to maximize the power of our workforce and eliminate unnecessary costs,” Matt notes.
Going forward, Matt and his team foresee steady, but gradual growth. The business is ramping up value-added products and services for a range of customers. “We have added our Family Farm brand, which is antibiotic and hormone free,” he elaborates. “That aspect of the business has grown from 2 percent to 45 percent of our business over the last five years. We also have a dry age program that we started within the last five years. We want to continue to develop these programs while retaining our reputation for quality food.”
The Heleniak family stands by the company’s products, backing up a quality-first philosophy with positive supplier relationships and an efficient and clean processing facility. Over the coming years, the business will continue to place priority on high-end meats that exceed industry standards in taste, freshness and food safety. In a pattern of constant improvement and vertical integration, Norwich Packers continues to lead the Ontario market in fresh, local beef products.