Maple Leaf Foods profit hit by pork supply issues, shares fall

(Reuters) - Canadian meat packaging company Maple Leaf Foods MFI.TO posted a smaller-than-expected profit as lower prices and a temporary interruption in supplies hurt sales of its pork products, sending its shares down 13 percent to their lowest in nearly two years.

The company, one of Canada’s biggest pork processors, said that processed fresh pork sales were affected by a transitory reduction in hog supply from Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) in 2017.

One of the company’s barns in Manitoba, Canada’s biggest piglet-producing province, was among the confirmed cases of the pig disease in June last year.

The deadly virus PEDv, which causes diarrhea, vomiting and severe dehydration in hogs, poses no threat to humans, according to the Canadian Swine Health Board.

The Canadian company said that pork market conditions in the first quarter were materially below prior year, offsetting strong performance in its other segments.

Maple Leaf’s sales rose about 0.8 percent to C$817.5 million, due to its prepared meats businesses, which also benefited from recent acquisitions.

The company has been keen on expanding in the United States, seeing growth opportunities in humanely produced meat and alternative protein sources, and acquired two U.S. based companies last year.

Last month, Maple Leaf Foods made an investment in Entomo Farms, a U.S.-based insect protein supplier.

In the first quarter, the company’s net earnings were C$27.9 million ($21.74 million), or 22 Canadian cents per share, compared with C$30.1 million, or 22 Canadian cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, the company earned 29 Canadian cents per share, missing analysts’ average estimate of 34 Canadian cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The company’s shares, down 4.9 pct at C$28.91, earlier hit a low of C$26.50.

($1 = C$1.28)

Reporting by Nishara Karuvalli Pathikkal; Editing by Shailesh Kuber