Restaurants cry fowl over the demise of the small chicken

Restaurants cry fowl over the demise of the small chicken

Portuguese barbecued chicken restaurants in Toronto are struggling with a supply shortage of the younger, smaller chickens they cook on charcoal barbecues or rotisserie spits.

“Where is all the chicken?” asks Guiherme Salera of the Portuguese Chicken Guys, a downtown restaurant. “We are calling all our suppliers, scrambling.”

The eateries, called churrasqueiras (a Portuguese word that translates to barbecue restaurant), have over the decades become a popular dining option in Toronto; dozens of the family-owned shops thrive across the city and the suburbs. But several restaurateurs say that for the past few months they have been unable to find the 1.1-kilogram chickens that taste the best.

At its heart, their beef seems to result from a clash between taste and efficiency.

Canadian farmers prefer to raise heavier chickens, because they get paid by weight. Abattoirs have set up their shackle lines — where workers slaughter, defeather, eviscerate and chill the chickens — to process the bigger birds. It takes about as much time to process a small bird as a big bird.

The restaurants, however, have equipment designed for smaller birds, and a business model based on price: $12 to $13 for a whole roast chicken. Lightweight chickens cook more quickly and taste better, the restaurants say. Sea salt and other seasonings can fully penetrate from the skin into the meat. It’s a preference, the way some people prefer veal to beef.

“The younger bird is more tender, more juicy,” said Eugene Antunes, who founded Churrasco St. Lawrence, a fixture since 1989 in the famed St. Lawrence market. “You buy an older bird, it’s been around. It has tougher, fatter meat. If it is a very big bird, it will singe before it cooks properly.”

Antunes said his suppliers have warned him of coming shortages of small birds. He is gathering signatures on a petition directed at the Chicken Farmers of Ontario to keep the 1.1-kilogram chickens coming.

The petition notes, “because we’re a BBQ house a larger bird is of no value to us because it won’t cook the same way.”

The Chicken Farmers of Ontario did not return repeated calls requesting comment.

Frank Sardinha, owner of Churrasqueira do Sardinha, buys chicken from Maple Leaf Foods Inc. A box of 20 chickens “used to come in 21-23 kilos,” he said. “Now the cases weigh 24-25 kilos. The bigger birds don’t taste as good, but I gotta take them. Beggars can’t be choosers.”

Salerna added that when restaurants buy older birds, they have to cut up to 200 grams of fat from their thighs and neck before roasting them — wasted weight for which the restaurants have to pay.

Mike Dungate, executive director of the Chicken Farmers of Canada, insists the push for larger chickens does not come from his organization, which tells each province, each year, how many kilograms of chicken they can raise, but not the size of each fowl.

“All we do is set the volume of chicken you can grow,” he said. “We do not care what size of chicken they grow.”

Even so, the rules dictate that farmers must raise chickens on an eight-week cycle in Ontario; if a farmer sends a younger chicken to slaughter, his barn sits empty longer until the next batch of chicks arrive. (Manitoba is on a seven-week cycle, so Manitoba chickens tend to be smaller, Dungate said.)

Told that restaurants seek 1.1-kilogram chickens for their superior flavour, Dungate burst into laughter. “I’m not quite sure on that one,” he said. “That’s a very small bird.”


Chicken processors prefer bigger birds because they earn more profit, said Robin Horel, chief executive of the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processing Council. He said the birds are not older, but simply grow more quickly than they did in the past.

“Birds have been getting bigger in the U.S. and Canada,” he said. “It’s more financially beneficial for farmers to grow a bigger bird, and more profitable for processors. The genetics of chicken make it more financially advantageous. And restaurants buy bigger birds because it’s cheaper for them.”

Indeed, Kentucky Fried Chicken Canada Co. confirmed that some of its restaurants now source bigger chickens, and slice the birds into more pieces before they put them in the fryer.

“In response to changes in sustainable farming practices, KFC suppliers in some parts of the country are sourcing larger, meatier chickens from Canadian farms,” the company said in an emailed statement. “In these locations, some pieces may look different due to a new way of cutting the chicken.”

Chicken is a fast-growing source of protein. In 1975, the average Canadian ate 13 kilograms of chicken and 47.4 kilograms of beef. Last year, each Canadian ate 32.5 kilos of chicken and 25 kilos of beef, according to Statistics Canada.

To supply the market, farmers have doubled production since 1990 to more than 1.1 billion kilograms of chicken raised last year. Chicken Farmers of Canada data also confirm a gradual increase in the size of the average live chicken, from two kilograms in 1990 to 2.3 last year.

Some in the industry say chicken kill facilities are working to squeeze smaller chickens out of the marketplace. Ontario rules make the small bird shortage worse, they say.

Most provinces have “open sign-up,” which means a farmer and an abattoir can agree to work together. In Ontario, the chicken farmers since 2011 have decided which plants will get chicken supplies.

Still, if some restaurants prefer a smaller chicken, why won’t their suppliers provide it?

Chris Hobbs, vice-president at ADP Direct Poultry in Toronto, has been wrestling with this question for months. His company buys chickens from abattoirs and further processes the meat for restaurants and grocery stores. They are a main supplier to churrasqueira.

“If you pull small birds from the market, people will be forced to adapt to a bigger bird,” Hobbs said. “This is not a consumer-driven change. Right now, it’s a bit like 1980s Russia: you can get any car you want as long as it’s a black Lada.”

In a three-page letter in May to the Chicken Farmers of Ontario, Hobbs asked for permission to directly buy smaller chickens from farms. The association has now agreed to meet him in August.

Specialty market

Paul Wideman is in a similar predicament. Wideman, whose family has worked for many years in the animal feed business, teamed up with investors three years ago to buy a decommissioned abattoir in Dundalk, about 100 km northwest of Toronto.

Wideman said his group invested $1 million to certify the plant, Conscious Living Cuisine Processing Ltd., with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and he wants to slaughter younger, smaller chickens for the specialty market.

So far, however, his plant has only slaughtered ducks, geese and guinea fowl, because the plant has not been granted plant supply quota from the Chicken Farmers of Ontario.

“We really didn’t think we’d have this much trouble convincing the powers that be to send us some chicken,” Wideman said. “It’s been delay, delay, delay.”

Supply management may have brought stability to Canada’s agricultural industry, he said, “but when you ask for something outside the mainstream (such as a smaller chicken), it all falls apart. The system no longer serves the many and diverse ethnic communities of Ontario.”

Back at St. Lawrence Market, Antunes said he owns a farm, and raises chickens for his own family meals. The rules, however, forbid him from raising chickens for his own restaurant.

“We want to sell chicken,” he said. “We could grow our own, but they won’t let us, and they won’t give us what we want, so what are we to do?”

Fans flood San Diego Comic-Con at Wednesday’s preview night

Fans flood San Diego Comic-Con at Wednesday’s preview night

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Convention Center was packed with people as soon as it opened its doors for Comic-Con.

Fans with four-day passes to the annual pop-culture convention were treated to a preview of the showroom floor Wednesday night: 460,000 square feet of TV, film and video game displays, along with toys, art and comic books for sale. Panels, presentations, screenings and celebrity appearances begin Thursday and continue through Sunday.

Forty-nine-year-old Tony Saxon bee-lined it for the Hasbro booth, where he loaded up on two massive bags of collectible toys.

“I spent $700, and that’s just the beginning,” said Saxon, who has been coming to Comic-Con since 1993. “I’m going to be broke by Sunday.”

Besides being packed with thousands of fans, Comic-Con’s showroom floor was alight with flashing screens and giant character displays touting the latest shows, movies, games and toys. The Mattel booth boasted a life-size replica of the new Batmobile from “Justice League,” which looks like a tank crossed with a sports car. Sanrio’s booth showed Hello Kitty reimagined as Sonic the Hedgehog. “The Walking Dead” booth was crawling with zombies. And players were so engrossed in their games at the Yu-Gi-Oh! booth, it was like they couldn’t tell Comic-Con was happening all around them.

“I just got here and it’s crowded,” said Miles Messenger, 35, as he waited in line to buy an exclusive toy at the Nickelodeon booth. “But I keep coming back because I really enjoy the atmosphere and the community, and being with people who share the same interests.”

What started as a comic-book convention with 300 participants in 1970 has grown into a corporate-heavy media showcase that draws more than 130,000 attendees. Netflix, Warner Bros., Fox, HBO and Marvel Studios are among the companies hosting large-scale presentations with top-name talent. But while Hollywood has raised Comic-Con’s profile, comic book enthusiasts say it keeps edging out the book buyers and sellers at the heart of the event.

“I think the biggest story about Comic-Con this year is that Chuck Rozanski and Mile High Comics isn’t attending… He is THE guy in terms of retail comics and he cannot afford to do the setup that he would usually do because he just doesn’t get the sales that he used to get at Comic-Con,” said Harry Knowles, founder of the fan site Ain’t It Cool News and a Comic-Con regular since 1971. “The sadness that’s going on is the people that really made Comic-Con worth going to from the very beginning are being squeezed out by the entire corporate structure of Hollywood, of the industry that is creating so much awesome stuff for us to obsess about.”

Among the fan obsessions on view this year: “Stranger Things 2” and “Marvel’s The Defenders” from Netflix, which also promises a surprise screening Thursday night; HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and “Westworld”; “Justice League” and “Blade Runner 2049” from Warner Bros., along with an anticipated appearance by Steven Spielberg showcasing his adaptation of “Ready Player One.”

Jamie Newbold, who’s been attending Comic-Con since 1972 and selling comic books there for more than 20 years, said that as big entertainment companies have seized on the convention’s fan base, the cost of exhibit space on the showroom floor has become prohibitive for small vendors.

The owner of Southern California Comics in San Diego still plans to bring about 15,000 books to the convention, but he used to take triple that.

“I have a lot of friends who do what I do, and when they look around and see the booths on either side of them are corporate booths, they’re big businesses, and we’re just little guys from LA or Colorado or New Orleans,” Newbold said. “It would be nice for us to see some form of compensation to keep us there since we’re the seeds that sprouted this massive tree.”

His wish? That Comic-Con would make its 50th anniversary a celebration of rare and vintage comic books.

Jud Meyers, co-founder of Blastoff Comics in Los Angeles, remembers when comic book sellers dominated the convention centre showroom. Now big studio and video game exhibits are front and centre, with booksellers are in the back.

“I don’t think we can blame Hollywood,” he said. “Dedicated comic book stores are at a low we’ve never seen… The comic book world is not just about comic books.”

That may be most clear at Comic-Con, where fans of sci-fi, superheroes and other genre fare can connect with their favourite characters through movies, TV, toys or cosplay, as well as comics.

Knowles, also a producer of the 2011 documentary “Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope,” said Comic-Con isn’t a battle between Hollywood and comic books.

“It’s not about who’s out to win Comic-Con,” he said. “The people who are going to win Comic-Con are the ones who paid for tickets to arrive to Comic-Con. They’re going to have the greatest time ever.”

Rogers Communications beats the Street with 35% profit surge

Rogers Communications beats the Street with 35% profit surge

TORONTO — Rogers Communications is reporting a 35 per cent increase in second-quarter net income, beating analyst estimates.

Its net income was $531 million or $1.03 per share, while adjusted profit was $1 per share.

Analysts had estimated Rogers would have 90 cents per share of net income, or 93 cents per share after adjustments, according to Thomson Reuters.

Revenue was $3.59 billion — up four per cent from last year’s second quarter and within analyst estimates.

It’s the first financial report issued by the Toronto-based telecommunications and media company since Joe Natale became its CEO in April.

Natale is a former CEO of Telus, where he had a reputation of building customer satisfaction and reducing turnover.

He said in today’s announcement that Rogers will improve customer service but also intensify a company-wide focus on controlling costs and improving profitability for shareholders.


Blockbuster Avista deal lifts Hydro One into Top 20 utilities on continent

Blockbuster Avista deal lifts Hydro One into Top 20 utilities on continent

Hydro One Limited, the largest electricity transmission and distribution provider in Ontario, has struck a deal to purchase Avista Corp., a pure-play regulated electric and gas utilities holding company that has operations in U.S. northeast and Alaska, for $6.7 billion.

The acquisition, which will see shareholders of publicly listed Avista receive US$53 a share and which was announced after the markets closed Wednesday, marks Hydro One’s first transaction in the U.S. since it went public in late 2015.

The purchase,marks a proud moment for Canadian champions as we grow our business into a North American leader,” Mayo Schmidt, Hydro One’s chief executive, said, adding the transaction “will be accretive to earnings per share in the mid-single digits in the first full year of operation.” More importantly the acquisition offers shareholders of Hydro One “a significant and stable increase to earnings and cash flow underpinned by fully regulated utility operations.” Hydro One has promised to continue to pay out 70 to 80 per cent of its earnings as dividends.

Investors, however, were not impressed and Hydro One fell the most in eight months Thursday morning after the deal that analysts said is too costly and exposes the Canadian energy company to regulatory hassles.

“Hydro One is paying the price to gain exposure to U.S. markets,” Shahriar Pourreza, an analyst at Guggenheim Securities, said in a note Thursday. The “very rich valuation” is “likely a near-term anomaly.”

Hydro One fell as much as 5.4 per cent to $21.32 in Toronto, the biggest intraday decline since Nov. 10, before paring losses. Avista rose 20 per cent to US$51.83 in New York.

If and when the transaction closes — and the two parties are targeting the second half of 2018 — the combined entity will have an enterprise value of $31.2 billion, and assets of $32.2 billion. It will rank in the Top 20 North American utilities that are focused on regulated transmission, electricity and natural gas local distribution and serve more than two million retail and industrial customers.

In entering the U.S., Hydro One is following the lead set by two East Coast utilities, Newfoundland-based Fortis Inc. and Nova Scotia-based Emera Inc.

And Hydro One is following the lead set by those two entities in the way it finances such acquisitions: it is selling $1.4 billion of 4 per cent convertible debentures represented by instalment receipts.

In that structure, investors will be paid one-third of the cost of each $1,000 debenture on closing with the balance ($667) being paid at a future date when all the conditions have been met. As a result, holders will receive an effective 12 per cent yield on the first installment. The rest of the purchase price will come from placing US$2.6 billion of debt.

When the transaction closes, Avista will be run as a Spokane-based stand-alone company. Synergies between the two companies are expected to be small given that “no workforce reductions” are planned. Instead efficiencies will flow through “enhanced scale, innovation, shared IT systems and increased purchasing power.”

Sears Canada to begin liquidation sales at 59 stores today. Is one of them near you?

Sears Canada to begin liquidation sales at 59 stores today. Is one of them near you?

TORONTO — Sears Canada has been given approval to begin liquidation sales Friday at the 59 locations it plans to close.

Ontario Superior Judge Barbara Conway approved the motion Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, Sears lawyer Jeremy Dacks said the company wanted to start sales of its merchandise, furniture, fixtures and equipment as soon as possible so it can “maximize” benefits for its stakeholders.

The liquidation sales will only occur at the 59 stores that are set for closure. They will begin Friday and run until Oct. 12, with the majority to be overseen by a third-party liquidator.

Current employees in the stores pegged for liquidation will be asked to stay on the job until the sales are complete and the locations are shut down.

The beleaguered department store owner has been operating under court protection from creditors since June 22 when it announced its plan to shutter 59 stores and cut approximately 2,900 jobs.

Here are the stores Sears is closing:

Last week, Ontario Superior Court Judge Glenn Hainey gave the company the green light to begin the process of putting itself up for sale. He also gave the retailer approval to pay $9.2 million in retention bonuses to executives and other key employees.

The payout was part of a compromise with retired employees that will see Sears Canada continue making some benefit and pension payments to retirees until Sept. 30.

Founded in 1952, Sears Canada says it hopes to exit court protection as soon as possible this year.

Strong indicators Alberta economy on rebound

Strong indicators Alberta economy on rebound

As Alberta’s economy rebounds from the downturn in the price of oil, new data shows employment insurance use is on the decline.

The province outpaced the rest of Canada with an 11.1 per cent year-over-year decline in EI beneficiaries, according to Statistics Canada.

Economic indicators tell a consistent story — the worst of the downturn has ended, Trevor Tombe, associate professor of economics at the University of Calgary, said Thursday.

Recent data show provincial unemployment down from a high of nine per cent in November 2016. In addition, there’s been a 9.3 per cent increase in the first quarter for job vacancies in the province. Alberta’s business confidence achieved six consecutive gains in Canadian Federation for Independent Business surveys, before holding steady in June.

“The corner has clearly been turned,” Tombe said.

Since October 2014, additional EI payments into Alberta have totalled $3 billion over and above the norm, he said. Typically, the province would receive roughly $50 million a month.

The 72,000 Albertans receiving regular EI benefits in May, according to StatsCan, represented a 7.2 per cent drop from the previous month, in addition to the year-over-year decline.

Alberta was one of eight provinces to see a decline from April. Nationally, the decline from the previous month was 2.4 per cent and the year-over-year drop was only 4.9 per cent.

The presence of other positive economic indicators bode well for economic recovery in Alberta, especially in comparison to the other provinces hit hardest by the oil downturn — Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador.

“The declines that you’ve seen in Alberta over the past two months — you haven’t seen similar sized declines in those other two provinces,” said Marton Lovei of Statistics Canada.

The May EI figures represent Alberta’s first year-over-year decrease since November 2014, when the downturn in oil prices began.

Tombe said the reduction in EI beneficiaries might be the result of a strengthening economy, but also said there were factors that contributed to Alberta’s outsized decline that were beyond the norm.

Statistics Canada attributed it in part to an increase in EI beneficiaries in northern Alberta in May 2016 associated with the Fort McMurray wildfires and evacuation. More than one-third — 34.6 per cent — of the decline in beneficiaries in Alberta in the 12 months to May occurred in the census agglomeration of Wood Buffalo, where Fort McMurray is located.

The federal government also made it easier to apply for EI in 15 regions of the country, including Alberta, offering up to an additional 20 weeks of regular benefits for areas hit hardest by declines in commodity prices.

John Rose, chief economist for the City of Edmonton, said the city’s economy came through the recession in relatively good shape.

Since January, Edmonton has seen a marked improvement in labour market conditions, including a turnaround in the city’s manufacturing sector, he said.

He noted about a quarter of jobs in Edmonton are in education, health care and public administration.

“While those areas don’t go down as quickly or as far as other sectors of the economy, particularly energy, they don’t bounce back quite as quickly,” Rose said.

Rose expects a return to GDP growth for Edmonton and for Alberta.

“I’m not aware of anyone who isn’t forecasting growth for the province of Alberta in the range somewhere from the low two per cent range … all the way up to 3.3 per cent,” he said.

Rose said his forecasts are on the modest end — 2.3 per cent growth for the province and 1.7 per cent for the city of Edmonton.

Stampeders get Charleston Hughes back for game with Roughriders

Stampeders get Charleston Hughes back for game with Roughriders

For the first time in a long time, Dave Dickenson smiled when he was asked about who the Calgary Stampeders might have available for their next game.

After weeks of watching player after player get yanked off the active roster due to injuries, the Stampeders coach actually got some good news this week.

Charleston Hughes, the CFL’s reigning sack king, looks likely to return against the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Saturday at McMahon Stadium (7 p.m., TSN/News Talk 770) after missing two games with a leg injury.

Offensive lineman Shane Bergman should be back in the lineup, too, after missing a couple games due to a concussion.

Rookie Tunde Adeleke should be back, as well, after sitting out last weekend’s loss to the host Montreal Alouettes.

“The good thing is I can make some decisions with some healthy bodies,” Dickenson said after Thursday morning’s practice. “Whereas in the past, it was like ‘you’re healthy, you’re playing.’

“We’ve got a few guys who look like they’re ready to go.”

To be clear, the Stampeders are still a banged-up bunch. The team’s six-game injured list is still 14 players deep and features big names such as Cordarro Law, Deron Mayo, Junior Turner and Brandon Smith.

There could be more good news next week, though, as players like Mayo and Smith who began the season on the six-game list will be eligible to return to practice.

For now, though, getting guys like Hughes and Bergman back should provide a measure of relief.

“Offensive line, we’re going to clean that up a little bit and make sure we get the right guys out there,” Dickenson said. “Looks like Charleston will be back, which is good.

“We’ve got to take ownership — we’re gonna go up against a great group. It’s always great to get your leaders out there and some of your vets who have produced over the years.”


The Stampeders know that if they’re going to stop the Roughriders from moving the ball upfield, they’re going to need to limit the damage from running back Cameron Marshall.

That’s easier said than done, with Marshall running for 70-plus yards in two of the Riders’ three games this season and getting increased looks in their Week 3 win against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Considering how the Stamps defence struggled to stop the Alouettes’ Tyrell Sutton late in last-weekend’s game, limiting Marshall will need to be a focus this weekend.

“He’s a good back,” said Stamps defensive coordinator DeVone Claybrooks. “He catches the ball, runs hard and rarely goes down on first contact, so we’ve got to make sure we’re running to the ball. He’s got a pretty good overall game, I would say.”

While Sutton was able to cause the Stamps trouble last week, it’s worth noting that the Calgary crew has been pretty strong against the run so far this season, and they limited the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to only 48 yards on the ground in Week 3.

“We’ve played (against Marshall) in the past — there’s some good running backs,” Dickenson said. “I’m not going to say he’s better than the guy we just played, though. Just stay as a group, (go out and) gang tackle and hopefully make some plays on him.”

Tough to hand Stampeders a second-straight loss

Tough to hand Stampeders a second-straight loss

There might not be a worse time to play the Calgary Stampeders than when they’re coming off a loss.

While the Stamps have won more regular-season games than any other team in the CFL over the last half-decade, they’ve seemed downright unbeatable in games where they were defeated the previous week.

In fact, the Stampeders haven’t lost back-to-back games since they were defeated by the Toronto Argonauts and the Montreal Alouettes in consecutive games in Week 2 and Week 3 of the 2012 season.

That’s a stretch of 91 games — the longest a CFL team has ever gone without losing consecutive regular-season matches. The second-longest streak, for what it’s worth, is owned by the Toronto Argonauts, who went 54 games without dropping back-to-back matches between the start of the 1936 season and the end of ’46 – there was no play from ’42-44 due to the Second World War.

So what’s the secret?

The Stamps don’t make it sound all that complicated.

“I didn’t even pay attention — we’ve got to live in a real-tight one-game window,” said Stamps head coach Dave Dickenson. “If you focus on that one game — I know it’s cliché — but make sure you get it done. Give me your best, give me your best and take care of that one game. Usually, that’s the most success you’ll have.”

It’s entirely possible that the Stampeders’ unprecedented run of never dropping back-to-back games is simply a result of how good the team has been over the past couple years.

At the same time, though, quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell said the team reacts in a very specific way to their losses.

“I think it’s more the culture of the team,” Mitchell said. “Losing always refocuses and humbles a team. A lot of the time when we lose, it’s not a lack of talent or effort. It’s attention to details or being overconfident in some things.

“(Losing) humbles the guys. We lock back in. We pay attention to details, and that’s why there’s never two in a row. That’s been the way it’s been so far, and hopefully, we keep it going.”

That could be bad news for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who visit McMahon Stadium on Saturday (7 p.m., TSN) only eight days after the Stampeders lost their first game of the season, dropping a 30-23 decision to the host Montreal Alouettes in Week 4.

When the Stamps picked up their first loss last year in Week 1 against the B.C. Lions, they stormed out of the dressing room a week later and smashed the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 36-22.

“It’s the culture — we might be a little ornery,” said Stamps defensive back Josh Bell. “We take a loss — we take it personally. We do a good job of correcting our mistakes from the week before, really. We make mistakes, we lose games, and we come back and correct those mistakes and win again.”

Ask around the Stampeders dressing room, and they all gave similar answers.

After the loss to the Als in Montreal, Mitchell and defensive star Micah Johnson both explained that the Stampeders wouldn’t be hanging their heads just because they dropped a game.

Instead, they insisted that it was simply time to get back in the film-room and begin fixing some mistakes that may have been papered-over during their undefeated three-game start to the season.

Against the Alouettes, there were a couple costly errors that the Stampeders believe they can avoid if they just keep things a little more simple.

“I think a lot of guys here hate losing,” said Stamps receiver Marquay McDaniel. “When you lose, you want to get back on that field as soon as possible. I think that’s the thing around here — we always reload.

“It’s a good thing we’re back at home — we’ve got a West (Division) matchup this week. We’re ready to go. I know me, personally, I haven’t been playing as good as I want to. I felt like I left some plays out there last week, so me personally, I’m ready to get back out there.”