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HICKORY, N.C. - Alex Lee, Inc. here, parent company of Lowes Food Stores, Inc., said it has signed a long-term supply agreement with Vantage Foods, for the latter to run a $21.1 million new centralized case-ready meat facility that will supply the chain's stores throughout Virginia and the Carolinas.
The 60,000-square-foot facility will process and package case-ready meats for the 109 Lowes Foods stores. It will also supply products to Merchants Distributors Inc., which supplies independent retailers; and Institution Food House, which supplies restaurants, hotels, schools and health care providers. Alex Lee owns all three companies.
The centralized plant will eliminate much of the bulk meat cutting in Lowes stores. A Lowes spokeswoman was quoted in local reports as saying, however, that the chain intends to keep full meat departments and service cases intact in the stores that currently have them.
The spokeswoman said the fresh meat products "will likely offer better quality and higher food safety standards," because the new case-ready facility will have an in-house quality control lab and a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector onsite daily. Customers will not notice a difference on the shelves, the spokeswoman said, adding that the move will further allow meat department associates to spend more time helping customers in front of the meat case.
"We are very pleased with the strategic partnership we have structured with Alex Lee," said Gary Haley, president and c.e.o. of the Calgary, A.B.-based Vantage Foods. "We're looking forward to supplying Lowes Foods - a progressive and quality-driven retailer. We share Lowes Foods' commitment to exceptional customer service, quality, and food safety."
Leonal Kilgore, president of Vantage Foods U.S. operations, will assume executive responsibility for the North Carolina operation, which is located about 70 miles northwest of Charlotte, "The new facility will be state of the art," said Kilgore. "It will operate with the most current processing technology and a dedicated team of case-ready professionals to ensure production and distribution of fresh meats under superior food safety protocols."
The new service center is expected to open in May 2007. Once fully operational, it will employ approximately 200 people.
Vantage Foods, already entrenched in the case-ready sector, has two state of the art service centers in Canada supplying Canada Safeway Ltd. and the Overwaitea Food Group. The newly announced facility in North Carolina will be the company's third dedicated case-ready facility.
In addition to the four previously mentioned southeastern-U.S.-based companies, Alex Lee also serves its own food stores as well as other independent retail operations, supermarkets, and convenience stores. The company is also a foodservice provider for restaurants, schools, and other institutions. Its service area consists of Georgia, North and South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky.