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JOHANNESBURG - RCL Foods, formerly known as Rainbow Chickens, said in its latest annual report released yesterday that its new pet-food plant was on track.

“The commissioning of the new R123m pet-food plant is on track, with full production expected by December 2017.

“The plant will feature innovation and technology that is not currently available in South Africa, and will assist to entrench and grow market leadership, with a focus on the premium segment and vet channel,” the group said. The company said its grocery business unit had experienced success in the pet-food category, with leading market shares in mainstream pet food.

In addition, its premium supermarket pet-food category, led by Canine Cuisine, which had been in existence for only four years, was already competing for market leadership in that category, it said.

RCL Foods is one of South Africa’s largest chicken producers and, like its peers, has been hurt by cheap imports. It said it would continue to focus on building stronger brands across its portfolio in the year ahead through an intensive innovation programme. It had invested in the technology and infrastructure to deliver a range of new products.

One of its plans was the expansion of its eThekwini logistics hub, it said. The hub was completed at a cost of R325m as part of an overall network investment plan to align the group with customers as a specialist multi-temperature service provider.

RCL Foods said it had created 2900 jobs in Mpumalanga. The jobs had been created in partnership with Akwandze Agricultural Finance, a joint venture with Nkomazi small-scale growers and the Land Bank.

Through the partnership, the parties had completed a five-year, R50m rehabilitation of irrigation infrastructure using a grant from the Jobs Fund.

The project had created 1300 permanent and 1600 short-term jobs in Mpumalanga, the company said.

It said it was helping retrenched workers in Hammarsdale in KwaZulu-Natal by retraining them for other jobs.

“We supported employees affected by the chicken restructure. R1m was provided by our Consumer Division to assist in retraining the affected employees to help them find alternative employment or start their own businesses,” the group said.

Training with accredited providers included driving, firefighting and first aid. The training was scheduled to be completed this month.

RCL Foods last year reported that it was forced to cut 1350 jobs in Hammarsdale as it reduced its operations to a single shift by reducing the two-shift system after the influx of cheap imports hurt sales.

In minimising job losses, the group managed to place more than 200 workers in other operations. In August, RCL Foods said it had become the latest victim of the avian influenza epidemic when it reported an outbreak in one of its 18 sheds at Viva farm near Muldersdrift in Gauteng.

RCL said the farm was a small breeder facility that was not used for meat production, because most of the birds were at the end of their life. Previously, Astral Foods reported a similar outbreak at its Welbedacht farm near Standerton in Mpumalanga. RCL shares fell 3.87percent to close at R14.66 on the JSE yesterday.

- BUSINESS REPORT