TORONTO — Maple Leaf Foods Inc. believes it is taking the necessary steps to deliver the healthier, more natural food choices consumers want, according to “Values guided,” the company’s first sustainability report, issued May 17.

One step was meeting the demand for food made with simpler, more natural ingredients and no artificial preservatives. In the report, Maple Leaf points out it spent four years developing Maple Leaf Natural Selections and Schneider’s Country Naturals — two full lines of prepared meats.

“We removed synthetic preservatives and ingredients, replacing them with natural ingredients, including lemon juice, sea salt, vinegar and vegetable-based preservatives such as cultured celery extract, which contains a natural form of nitrite, essential for food safety,” Maple Leaf said. “The success of these products has revitalized the prepared meats category providing consumers with a nutritious, convenient and very appetizing product rich in proteins and minerals.”

Focusing on creating products with more convenience was another step in the process noted in the report.

Maple Leaf said it re-launched its Prime poultry brand last year with sliced, cooked chicken and breast portions that are smaller and individually packed. The company also launched Maple Leaf Prime Raised Without Antibiotics chicken. The efforts helped spur sales volume growth of 13% in the Prime brand during 2012, the company said.

In its Canada Bread unit, Maple Leaf said its Dempster’s brand continues to lead the Canadian bakery market in innovation and healthy grain bread. In January, Canada Bread re-launched the Dempster’s Whole Grains bread line to be free of artificial flavors, colors or additives. Other examples of Canada Bread’s innovation include Dempster’s Farmhouse bread, which is made from 100% Canadian wheat, and Smart bread, which the company said has “all of the features of white bread with the goodness of whole grains.”

Since launching its reduced sodium program several years ago, Maple Leaf said nearly a quarter of its bakery products and one-third of its prepared meats meet the voluntary guidelines established by Health Canada to help Canadians achieve the average sodium intake goal of 2,300 mg per day by 2016.

“We expect all of our bakery products and the vast majority of our prepared meats products will meet these guidelines by 2016,” Maple Leaf said. “The major exception is dry fermented salami and prosciutto, where meeting these guidelines could seriously compromise food safety.”

Maple Leaf also is offering more choice in portion sizes, a component in addressing obesity. The company said its chicken, bacon and pepperettes are sold in portion packs that address three issues important to consumers: convenience, portion control and waste.

Maple Leaf said it is not attempting to achieve its goal of providing healthier, more natural food choices, alone. The company has partnered with Dalhousie University, the University of Guelph, the University of Manitoba and the University of Saskatchewan to advance the health benefits of the products it makes. The company is working with the University of Manitoba (St. Boniface Hospital) on the role of flax in bakery products in reducing hypertension.

“Our collaboration with leading researchers will help us launch more products that meet our consumers’ evolving needs, including those that are high protein, preservative and antibiotic free, and fortified with additional vitamins and minerals,” Maple Leaf said.

The full report is available at