Canada’s Maple Leaf Foods has announced CEO Michael McCain is to step down from the role next year.

He will be replaced by Curtis Frank, the meat and plant-based protein company’s president and COO, by the spring of 2023 in what the company describes as a “phased leadership transition”.

McCain will stay with Maple Leaf as executive chair of the board.

In a statement, the company said: “Under the leadership of Michael McCain, Maple Leaf Foods has achieved an enduring and sustainable position as an iconic Canadian company. Acquired in 1995, the company has been transformed from an underperforming collection of diverse business activities into a focused, world leader in sustainable food production delivering enduring, superior value for all stakeholders.”

Supported by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, McCain and his family bought Maple Leaf in 1995 from UK company Hillsdown Holdings, the forerunner to the now Premier Foods.

Publicly-listed Maple Leaf, which counts the McCain family as its largest shareholder, added: “Driven by his passion to deliver long-term value, Michael McCain has led the company through decades of transformation, from foundation building in the early years, to reshaping the business portfolio, rebuilding supply chains, reinvigorating brands and ultimately pivoting to growth, supported by a progressive vision to become the most sustainable protein company on earth.”

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CEO-designate Frank has worked at Maple Leaf for 21 years.

McCain said: “He [Frank] is exactly the leader we need to further our vision. He is ready to step into the leading role and set the course for the next chapter of Maple Leaf Foods.”

The outgoing CEO said his new role will be “more heavily oriented to strategy, stewardship, oversight, and guidance”.

The announcement of an executive re-shuffle came as Maple Leaf released its first-quarter financial results.

Maple Leaf recorded sales of CAD1.12bn (US$878.9m), an increase of 7% year-on-year, but net earnings were down by 71.3% to CAD13.7m. Earnings before interest and income taxes stood at CAD28.8m, versus CAD70.8m in the first quarter of 2020. Maple Leaf provided an adjusted EBITDA figure, which reached CAD66.8m, against CAD99.5m a year earlier.

Its meat protein division recorded sales of CAD1.08bn, up 7.5% on a year earlier. Sales from the company’s plant protein business were up 5.2% to CAD44.9m.

The adjusted EBITDA from Maple Leaf’s meat arm was CAD97.5m, versus CAD123.9m in the opening quarter of 2020. Its plant-protein business made an adjusted EBITDA loss of CAD30.7m, compared to one of CAD24.4m a year earlier.

In February, Maple Leaf said it planned to adjust its investment policy for its plant-based meat business to align with a drop-off in sales.

It had launched a review of its Field Roast and Lightlife chilled meat-free brands in November after a third straight quarter of declining sales.

McCain said yesterday: “In plant protein, we showed a modest 5% growth rate and are continuing our methodical work to adjust the business investment model to match our new outlook for long-term category growth. We will rightsize our manufacturing footprint and SG&A structure to deliver our goal of breakeven Adjusted EBITDA or better in the latter half of 2023.”