Seventeen people are in federal custody as part of an ongoing investigation of a Fremont meatpacking plant by immigration officials. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Greg Palmore says they were arrested Tuesday at Fremont Beef for immigration violations.

He said Wednesday that immigration agents performed an "enforcement action" — not a raid — to determine whether Fremont Beef is complying with immigration laws. Palmore said he wasn't sure how many were questioned, but 17 were taken into custody.

Fremont Beef president Les Leech said in a statement issued Wednesday that his company was among a thousand nationwide that were randomly selected for immigration audits. The names of Fremont Beef workers were entered in the Federal Trade Commission's identity theft database, which showed 18 matches, he said. Those workers were taken in for questioning.

Leech said he's previously requested access to the FTC database, but has been denied. So, Fremont Beef uses the government's E-Verify system for all new hires.

"We have been doing, and will continue to do, everything legally possible to ensure the work authorization of our work force," Leech said. "Unfortunately, the system that we have access to just isn't perfect.”

Source: Associated Press

Packaged meats helps drive Smithfield's Q3 results

Smithfield Foods Inc. reported fiscal 2010 third quarter results. The company reported income from continuing operations for the third quarter of fiscal 2010 of $37.3 million, or $.22 per diluted share, versus a loss from continuing operations last year of $108.1 million, or $(.75) per diluted share. Sales were $2.9 billion versus $3.3 billion in the same period last year.

"The third quarter demonstrated the ongoing strength of our packaged meats business, which continues to deliver very strong margins. We are extremely focused on this part of the business, it is paying dividends and the restructuring program is beginning to have an impact," said C. Larry Pope, president and CEO.

"The action items called for in the Pork Group restructuring plan are complete, and the benefits are meeting expectations. As of this month, we have closed all six plants that were announced as part of the restructuring plan early last year. We are on track to achieve the targeted $55 million of profit improvement this year, after applicable restructuring expenses, and $125 million of annual benefits beginning in fiscal 2011," he continued.

"Much of the success of the Pork Group restructuring plan is attributable to the benefits received from shuttering underutilized plants. These plant closures, combined with the rationalization of unprofitable business, have allowed this organization to realize strong bottom line growth. While the plan has intentionally caused a loss of volume in the Pork segment, it has resulted in a more competitive and efficient cost base and improved product mix to begin to focus on profitable top line growth," Pope remarked.

Packaged meats operating profits declined modestly from the prior year after adjusting for restructuring charges in both years. The comparative decline reflects planned volume decreases. In spite of sharply higher raw material costs, packaged meats operating margins remained robust, the company noted, and were in line with the prior year on an adjusted basis.
Hog production losses moderated significantly in the third quarter, reflecting a 12% improvement in live hog market prices in the U.S. and a 16% reduction in domestic raising costs. Live hog market prices in the U.S. increased to an average of $44 per hundredweight compared to $40 per hundredweight in the same quarter last year. Domestic raising costs decreased to $51 per hundredweight from $61 per hundredweight in the prior year.

"Our biggest obstacle for the past two years has been the lack of profitability in our hog production segment. As of the third quarter, those losses have substantially diminished and the futures markets are trending favorably for us," said Pope.

"We anticipate that fresh pork margins will improve as hog slaughter levels continue to decline and the Sioux City plant is closed in April. In addition, we expect that fiscal 2010 should be the second best year ever for Smithfield fresh pork exports. Our trade representatives are actively working to fully reopen the Chinese and Russian markets and secure the approval of our plants for shipping. I fully expect these markets to be reopened by the end of this fiscal year," he continued.

"This organization continues to focus on driving profitable growth through our consumer packaged meats business. Consequently, we are very pleased with the ongoing performance of our packaged meats business over the last two years. It is this focus that will continue to propel the company forward," Pope remarked.

"Looking forward to fiscal 2011, hog production should be dramatically improved year over year and pork results should be very solid, owing to the restructuring plan that will be complete. If the current trends continue and the export markets reopen, I believe we could have a very good year in fiscal 2011," he concluded.

Source: Smithfield Foods Inc.

HIG Capital acquires two processors

Tennessee Valley Ventures, a Southeast-based lower middle-market private equity firm, announced today it has sold two of its food processing investments -- Albertville Quality Foods and Southern Quality Meats -- to an affiliate of H.I.G. Capital LLC, a global private equity firm based in Miami, Florida. The sale of both companies allowed TVV to realize a 14x multiple on invested capital over the life of the investment, including proceeds received from prior transactions.

In 2000, TVV invested in Albertville Quality Foods Inc., an Alabama-based processor of breaded and marinated chicken products that serves a group of leading national restaurant and foodservice customers. In 2002, TVV acquired Southern Quality Meats, a Mississippi-based producer of country-style pork sausage products, as an add-on investment to provide a complementary protein source for its foodservice customer base.

Between 2000 and 2009, TVV and management significantly grew revenues, primarily through organic growth initiatives that included capital investments in capacity expansions, production automation projects, and information system upgrades. Over that period, the combined entities added many valuable new customers including, Applebee's, Sonic, Chili's, Shoney's, and Wal-Mart.

"TVV's strategic sourcing advantage and patient investment approach have paid off with superior returns to our investors in an otherwise difficult investing environment," said Andrew Byrd, TVV president. "Our objective is to identify and acquire well-managed, consistently profitable companies in attractive niches and then partner with founding teams and stakeholders to achieve operational excellence, strong customer growth and market expansion. Our goal is to both grow and build highly attractive businesses and then apply a well-executed marketing and sales process to generate superior returns."

"Andrew and his team were integral in positioning Albertville and Southern to maximize profit and growth," said Don Haynie, President of AQF and SQM. "From the beginning, TVV understood the market forces in play. They worked closely with our senior management team supporting the strategic hires, R&D and infrastructure investments that ultimately drove customer acquisitions and led to the successful recapitalization of both companies."

Source: Tennessee Valley Ventures