Pixtar Canada Inc.: Providing Specialty Poultry Processing

Bill Johnman founded Pixtar Canada Inc. (Pixtar) in 2011 after 25 years in the poultry processing industry. Johnman was more than ready to start his own business. “I’ve opened nine plants for other people and have also been a consultant internationally,” explains Johnman, still president of Pixtar. “When the opportunity came up to try it on our own, we took it.”

Pixtar is a specialized plant, operating as a secondary processor of chicken products. “There aren’t many of us left,” says Johnman. Johnman and his partners have 80 combined years of experience, setting the Georgetown, Ontario-based company far ahead of the competition. “It’s a very unique company,” explains Johnman. “We’re a little old school, but we have a lot of experience in this industry.”

Specialty Services

The Pixtar team’s specialty is portion control. “Our customer base is mostly further processors, but also foodservice clients with special needs,” says Johnman. “Many chefs are becoming increasingly conscientious about portion control and food costs. Most processors will say it’s a to six-ounce breast and ship you a product that is six to seven ounces. They order a five-ounce breast and we give them a five-ounce breast. They know that their food cost is dead on.”

Pixtar also offers unique packaging for clients in foodservice. “For that division, we layer pack,” explains Johnman. “If a restaurant has a slow weekend, they can freeze the product and it becomes a shatter pack. You just have to drop the box on the floor and all of the pieces separate.” The shatter packs save restaurateurs time because the chicken does not have to be thawed out before being portioned into chicken cuts.

That isn’t the only trick up Pixtar’s sleeve. Johnman and the team have a few big products in the pipeline for late 2012. “We’re about to venture into something nobody else in Canada has,” says Johnman. “We’re trying out a Hong Kong dressed product. It’s geared toward our ethnic market, and the product is a full chicken with the head and feet still on, stuffed and in an oven-ready bag.”

The company’s ethnic division has found success with growing populations in Toronto along with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) provisions to safely accommodate the growing market. “Five years ago we could never consider doing anything like this,” says Johnman. He plans for Pixtar to launch the new product around the end of November 2012.

The team is also working on a few other specialty products. Pixtar has partnered with a chicken farm operation that will start providing the company with custom-raised antibiotic-free (ABF) roaster chickens. The ABF hens will come into play for another endeavor down the line.

“We’re doing a high-end Cajun roaster,” says Johnman. “It’s stuffed with fresh, hearty vegetables: carrots, potatoes, onions and green beans. This isn’t traditional bread stuffing, though. We’re using an oven-ready bag in the cavity of the bird that will steam the vegetables while the bird cooks.” The oven-ready product is entirely sealed in a cooking bag, distributed in its own baking tray. “The bag cuts cook time in half,” explains Johnman. “It’s all sealed in, so the chicken retains its natural moisture. It’s super delicious.”

Maintaining a Market Share

Great ideas and even better relationships allowed Pixtar to prosper, even as the poultry industry in Canada underwent a tough year. “Supply has been very tight,” explains Johnman. “There was a huge cost increase on corn and feed with the record heat this summer. Our suppliers lost 25 percent of their birds to the heat, dying before they could even get to processors. Costs have gone up considerably.” Johnman and his team have luckily developed long-standing relationships with suppliers. “They ensure I still get my product and can carry on with my business,” he explains.

Pixtar has also been looking at major market changes within the industry. The demand for dark meat has increased significantly with the growth of the ethnic foods niche. “Dark meat, which was never as popular before, has become the preference,” explains Johnman. “There’s a huge demand for legs and wings now and it’s trading equal to white meat. The dark meat niche has become very competitive. We’ve chosen to mostly avoid it. We’ll let the other plants worry about deboning it.” Pixtar is maintaining its steady hold on processing white meat and whole birds.

Despite being a new company, Johnman says Pixtar has done exceptionally well in its first year. “The first year is always the hardest,” he says. “But growth has been very good. We’ve got a couple of very good contracts.” As long as he stays the course, Johnman predicts the company will be operating at capacity within two to three years. If all goes well, he will consider expanding or selling the company. “Pending the market conditions, we might be well positioned for a buyout,” he explains. Johnman has scoped some potential buyers, but nothing is set in stone yet. A purchasing company could count on a solid investment, though. Johnman and the team at Pixtar Canada Inc. have laid a strong business foundation with excellent industry connections.