Banff Pork Seminar 2009
An on-the-ground view of happenings in and around BPS, from Land and Science editors.
Maple Leaf's lessons from the Listeriosis crisisDate posted: January 23, 2009
There's no magic in responding to tragedy, says Rory McAlpine, Vice-President, Government & Industry Relations, Maple Leaf Foods Inc. In the case of the listeriosis outbreak linked to the deaths of 20 Canadians in 2008, the needed response was as clear as it was simple: Do the right thing.
For McAlpine, the anxiety surrounding the outbreak hit home immediately when his own son, a 21 year old university student fell seriously ill for 48 hours from listeriosis. "There's no question that he got it from a Maple Leaf product. It resonates with you personally when you see that happen," McAlpine told pork producers and industry representatives at the Banff Pork Seminar.
Ultimately, the way people react in recognizing the gravity of a situation personally is no different than how even large corporations should react, he found. Maple Leaf Foods responded as though it were hit in the gut, and reacted with the appropriate urgency, honesty and consumer-first focus that has proven the key to managing the crisis and rebuilding confidence in its brand. This approach has earned the company accolades for doing what's right and putting that principle far ahead of any concern for the bottom line.
Many companies talk the talk, but it's another thing entirely to walk the walk.
"There's nothing magical about this," says McAlpine. "It's very much instinctive. But it really does begin with corporate values and having the right ones in place to begin with."
Walking the walk
For a company suddenly thrown into managing a crisis, the way you are regarded instantly becomes all about what you do, not just what you say, observed McAlpine during a breakout session on "Re-Building Consumer Confidence."
"If there's ever a situation where that comes to the fore, it's in the type of situation we faced with respect to Listeria.
"We as a company subscribe to a set of values that I think are deeply ingrained but you only really find out if they are deeply ingrained if you get yourself in a crisis like this. The two that really came to the fore were 'do what's right' and 'dare to be transparent.'
Lead by CEO Michael McCann, the company drew on its established culture and values to quickly identify and implement a response based on four key approaches: 1) Taking accountability, 2) Putting public health and consumer interests first, 3) Leading in an open and fact based manner, and 4) Implementing a decisive action plan.
Recognizing what was needed did not depend on in-depth understanding of the issue, but that requirement rapidly followed. "You quickly as an executive team have to become familiar with some hard facts about what you're dealing with," says McAlpine. "For example, I would suggest at this point Michael McCann has become one of the best educated individuals on the science of Listeria and the practical measure for avoiding it in the country."
Media coverage of the outbreak was intense, unrelenting and instantaneous. There was no time to mull over strategy. Under these demands, McAlpine credits the company's established culture with ensuring the fastest approaches would also be the right ones.
"Our CEO was wired to very quickly issue a public apology and make a commitment to fix the problem. He wasn't listening to accountants and lawyers; he clearly knew as an organization we were going to put consumer interests first."
Maple Leaf had a communications team in place but it was very small. It did have some external help, but the critical component of operating effectively was fast, honest reaction. "A key lesson here was not to overthink strategy, to keep our messages and tactics straightforward. You don't second guess, because time doesn't allow you, frankly, to think too much about it. You just have to do it, and do what you know is right."
Another key was to keep fact focused and act quickly to fill the information void. Maple Leaf couldn't afford the luxury of waiting or relying on government or others to deliver key facts on risk that the public demanded. The company had to take the lead. "We did it through multiple means, and we did it 24/7," says McAlpine.
This involved several initial press conferences in rapid succession and numerous other external approaches. "We also had to pay attention to our internal communications. In a large organization you face the need to manage communications internally, as much as externally, in this kind of event."
When it came to implementing a decisive action plan, being prepared beforehand was a critical advantage. "We were fortunate in that we had a well established recall manual and we continually do mock recall exercises. You have to anticipate what will happen and you have to know who's in charge, what roles each individual is going to play, etc. You have to have the teams pre-established and you have to have the discipline and the tools in place to execute. Fortunately I think we did have that. We weren't perfect, but were certainly were well prepared."
Maple Leaf appointed a recall team, managed by a top performer in quality and systems management. "We had clear accountabilities that involved obviously the CFO, the CEO, our senior business leaders, and we had a team that involved people in quality assurance / food safety, communications, regulatory aspects and sales, and we maintained a continuously updated report on all the tasks and what was happening in all of our plants. As a result of this we maintained twice daily calls, and we mapped all our activities and tracked all the information continuously 24/7 for several weeks in a row."
Food safety crisis 101: Maple Leaf's keys to restoring confidenceDate posted: January 23, 2009
Rory McAlpine, Vice-President, Government & Industry Relations, Maple Leaf Foods Inc.
It was arguably the largest food recall in Canada's history. So, what did Maple Leaf Foods Inc. learn from the listeriosis crisis? Several key lessons were reinforced by the experience, says Rory McAlpine, Vice-President, Government & Industry Relations, speaking at the Banff Pork Seminar.
Accept responsibility. The first of these was the importance of accepting responsibility, he says. "Absolutely there's no way to avoid taking the responsibility. We had what we thought was the best of the best in Listeria control and monitoring system, but it clearly wasn't good enough and we had a breach. We accepted that we were responsible. Throughout the situation we defended the integrity of government and its regulation and accepted the accountability as the manufacturer of the food."
Do the right thing and dare to be transparent. Equally important was transparency. "We lead with facts and tried to be as transparent as possible. There was nothing that we were trying to hide. And even though we were faced with serious legal consequences because of this, we set that aside."
Act quickly. Urgency was also essential. "We learned that in a situation like this, communications or media cannot wait. We had news conferences at 10:30 on Saturday nights; we had them on Sunday mornings. The media cycle was relentless and you can't be seen as delaying in any response to new information. One weakness, we were not as good as we should have been in terms of French language communication in Quebec. We needed to be better prepared, and we've learned our lesson there."
Use external support. Another key component was to leverage external experts. The company utilized both Canadian U.S. experts for our communications and investigative activity and established additional support wherever it was needed. "In this kind of environment, there's a million things happening at once, and you need to have proper support for everything."
Restore confidence. There's no way to put a silver lining on tragedy. All that can be asked for is to take responsibility and handle things to the best of ones abilities. For a food company, the best measure of success in doing that is to make advances in restoring consumer confidence.
"As much as the company is appreciative of some of the positive appraisals of our handling of the situation, at the end of the day, it's about whether the consumers comes back, one by one, to the product." That means never losing focus, and constantly doing everything that is needed to reassure the consumer that if they make a purchase it's going to be safe.
Surveys have shown consistent improvements for Maple Leaf in restoring consumer confidence ever since the peak of the crisis. That is the building point for the company in charting its future and doing whatever it can to prevent a similar crisis.
The path forward
"The path forward for us is firstly implementing a food safety program that is best in practice," says McAlpine. "Before the crisis, we had what we thought was an outstanding North American leading program. But we decided we are going to do a whole lot better. And believe me, we have been doing an extraordinary number of new things to do that since all of this happened."
The most recent step has been to hire Dr. Randall Huffman as the company's new Chief Food Safety Officer. Huffman, formerly the president of the American Meat Industry Foundation, is recognized as North America's leading expert in Listeria control, based on his scientific and industry experience.
This is the type of step that is the core of the company's path forward, says McAlpine. "It's a path that is continually ongoing, and one where it our responsibility to constantly strive for improvement."
Held since 1972 in Banff, Alberta, the Banff Pork Seminar is coordinated by the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science, University of Alberta, in cooperation with Alberta Pork, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development and other pork industry representatives from across Canada. A special meeting report on Banff Pork Seminar 2009, including several news releases and articles, is available on Meristem Land and Science, at www.meristem.com.
Still room to cut animal health costs, says vetDate posted: January 22, 2009
In times of economic distress, many would agree that there are only two fundamental solutions: invest aggressively and hope for the best (think the U.S. government) or cut costs dramatically. Pork producers know the latter message all too well and probably wonder how they could possibly cut their expenses even more.
However, veterinarian Doug MacDougald says there are still opportunities to reduce animal health costs through better production and financial analysis. There is also still room for improvement on return on investment (ROI) for animal health products on most hog farms, he says.
The pig industry, says MacDougald, is marked by generally poor production and financial analysis. This means poor assessment of ROI for interventions and little focus on opportunity cost. However, research based on finishing pig group opportunity costs calculated on mortality, culls and feed conversion to target reveals startling results, with the best to worst sites varying by $11 per pig, with the widest variance per site at $34 per pig.
"This is, in my experience, representative of this industry, not economically sustainable and for an individual herd to improve on this delivers a significant competitive advantage," he says.
Be critical of product technical information
Be critical of general mass marketing of product technical results and ROI analysis from the animal health industry, says MacDougald. "Individual herds vary considerably in disease status, prevalence of disease (as opposed to the prevalence of the pathogen), disease stressors and need for animal health product 'insurance.'"
MacDougald highlights this with an example of the potential cost savings of an altered animal health program. A program which removes erysipelas, leptospira, and parvovirus (ELP) vaccines at weaning (-11 cents per pig weaned), removes E.coli vaccinations for pre-farrow sows (-10 cents), and eliminates deworming (-8 cents) but puts in place monitoring of parvovirus serology/fecal flotation three times a year (+1 cent) results in a total savings of 28 cents per pig weaned, he says.
Focus on the primary pathogens - big bugs, not little
Producers must do accurate and timely diagnostics, work closely with their veterinary and diagnostic team, and remember that biology is not black and white or time static, says MacDougald. "For example, intervening with antibiotics and/or vaccines chasing nursery 'suicide' bugs without addressing PRRSV circulation is a band-aid, not a long term health strategy."
Monitor product usage
Incorrect product orders, wrong dosages of vaccine, accidental changes to treatment or vaccine protocols can all have an impact on the bottom line, says MacDougald, who recommends a pharmaceutical cost analysis by month and reconciliation of key products on a per pig basis to track trends and actual animal health costs.
Manage lightweight pigs
Focusing on this sub-population, which significantly influences weight gain and mortality variation, will lead to more cost effective animal health product decisions, better opportunity costs and long term health management strategy, says MacDougald. "Note that sow herd pathogen stability is a piece of the lightweight, compromised pig puzzle that is often overlooked."
For complete proceedings on this and other presentations at the Banff Pork Seminar, visit the BPS Web site at www.banffpork.ca.
Being Canadian gives 'Choose Canadian' a head startDate posted: January 21, 2009
With the Canadian pork industry in rethink mode, perhaps the key word on the minds of the industry today - besides "survival" – is "differentiation." A key example is the Alberta pork industry's Revitalization Strategy, which seeks to lay the foundation for differentiating efforts based on environmental stewardship, animal welfare, and other social good values gaining clout among consumers.
One key question, however, is what we already know about consumers' attitudes toward Canadian pork. In this sense, the Choose Canadian program may well be the litmus test for what the industry can expect from regional efforts to differentiate pork across Canada.
Roy Kruse, manager of Pork Marketing Canada, the alliance of provincial pork organizations behind the Choose Canadian campaign, gave pork industry members a state of the union on the campaign at a breakout session at the Banff Pork Seminar. Perhaps the most promising news out of Kruse's report is that, according to industry and government studies, Canadian-produced food already has a head start in the hearts and minds of Canadian consumers.
Canadian consumers continue to believe that Canada has better production practices and standards and more rules and regulations than other countries, says Kruse. At the same time, the demand for local food continues to rise. "With heightened concerns for the environment and an increasing focus on food safety, people are more interested than ever in the food on their plate. The new labels clearly identify fresh pork produced in Canada, providing consumers with peace of mind and confidence."
Trusted by consumers
The bottom line, according to research conducted by Ipsos Forward Research on behalf of PMC, is that, overall, Canadian consumers have very positive perceptions of Canadian pork production, with the vast majority considering them an important part of the country's economy and future. More than half of consumers indicated they "always" or "often" look for the country of origin when shopping for pork, beef or chicken. Among those consumers who regularly looked for country of origin for pork, 72 percent said they have actively done so for more than one year.
When it came to consumption, pork was included in approximately 22 percent of meals including meat and meals prepared at home. Pork ranked third behind chicken (33 percent) and beef (31 percent) and significantly ahead of other meats such as turkey, veal and lamb.
Premiums a challenge
One challenge the research reveals is that labeled Canadian pork has a lower premium ceiling than Canadian beef - in other words, the extra amount consumers are willing to pay for a product labeled as produced in Canada. Asked to choose between two identical packages of beef roast or pork loin roast at par, virtually all consumers indicated they would choose the package that identified Canada as the country of origin versus an unknown country of origin. Willingness to pay a premium for Canadian labeled beef or pork remained strong when attached to a 10 percent premium, with approximately 80 percent of consumers "choosing Canadian."
However, at a 20 percent premium, while the proportion of consumers willing to pay a premium for Canadian beef declines slightly (73 percent), a significantly lower proportion of consumers would continue to pay a premium for Canadian pork (66 percent).
Where to from here?
One of the common questions that has come up since the launch of the Choose Canadian program, says Kruse, is how long will the program run. "The answer is potentially, forever," he says. "The fundamental effort to brand Canadian pork in the domestic market can potentially be a permanent effort, one around which producers and the industry can build over the long term. In fact, the Choose Canadian program is an integral part of PMC's business plan.
"While the initial goal of this program was to stop the bleeding, the longer term goal is to grow the business by identifying and developing opportunities. Partnerships will be key in this and the fact that pork organizations are working together to streamline and enhance their efforts is a major factor in success."
Seminar proceedings offer long-term valueDate posted: January 19, 2009
Although the Banff Pork Seminar is about a number of things - networking, marketing, and even recreation – at the end of the day it is primarily about information, be it technology transfer from the research community or more interpretive perspectives given by other industry leaders. The challenge is to package that information so it's more than a one-time deal for those who were there for the three days – how do you make it have relevance and value down the road?
Like most seminars of its kind, one way the Banff Pork Seminar does this is by compiling the proceedings of presentations in book format for Seminar attendees and, later, on CD and the Web for those who missed it. John Harding, an associate professor of swine production with the Western College of Veterinary Medicine who has made presentations at the Seminar, believes the Banff Pork Seminar proceedings are among the best in the industry. Harding says he has gone back to archives from past Seminars on a number of occasions for the purposes of research.
"The proceedings are very good – they're well-referenced and well-edited," he says. "Typically, when you submit a paper to a meeting you wonder if anybody reads it, but at the Banff Pork Seminar there's no question they're read prior to the meeting by the conference organizers and after the meeting by the swine industry at large."
Proceedings from past Banff Pork Seminars are available on the BPS Web site at www.banffpork.ca.
Networking opportunities drive success of Banff Pork Seminar, says longtime delegateDate posted: January 19, 2009
It's a question heard in many sales and marketing meetings: do we really know the needs of our target market and, if not, how do we find out? Most would probably agree that, whenever possible, the most straightforward way is to engage that audience one-on-one.
In the case of those serving the pork industry, the Banff Pork Seminar has become a key tool for doing this. In many ways, however, the Seminar's current reputation is the result of a long process that developed as it built a reputation for bringing in the best in the industry. Having attended the vast majority of Banff Pork Seminars since the event's inception in 1972, Sunhaven Farms president Bryan Perkins has seen the evolution of the Banff Pork Seminar firsthand.
"At first, there was a higher percentage of producers and not as many supporting industry participants. The level of non-producer industry participants has gone up significantly as time went on, and that's where a good part of the growth has come from," says Perkins, who serves as chair of the 2009 Banff Pork Seminar committee.
The net result has been a leading edge Seminar that's ideal for networking on a number of levels. "If you want to talk to industry leaders from all sectors supplying the pork industry, there's a darn good chance they're going to be at Banff. That's something that's evolved."
Event success sign of industry confidence, says committee chairDate posted: January 12, 2009
Despite coming hard on the heels of one of the pork industry's most turbulent times in recent memory, the Banff Pork Seminar met its sponsorship goal for its 2009 event. Banff Pork Seminar committee chair and longtime delegate Bryan Perkins credits this to two factors: 1.) a dedicated management team and 2.) a pork industry that continues to support the Seminar.
"We have a dandy organizing team in Ron and Ruth Ball and an excellent committee working with them," he says. "In spite of their abilities, however, if there hadn't been some confidence from industry people, we likely would not have met our sponsorship goal. It bodes well for the future of the industry when there's that level of commitment. They're saying the Seminar is an important component in our industry and one they want to be involved in."
Business partnership a 'win-win' situation for Danisco and Banff Pork SeminarDate posted: January 12, 2009
John Van Oort sees it as a business partnership. Every year, the Danisco Animal Nutrition business manager for Canada and his team hold a meeting with potential customers and others just prior to the Banff Pork Seminar. They do this because it's a.) cost-effective and b.) it's a key opportunity to reach a broad cross-section of players in the pork industry while they're in the same place at the same time.
"To put on this kind of meeting can be very costly if you're flying everybody in. In that sense, it's a cost-sharing arrangement," he says. "In fact, in 2008 and again in 2009, my EU colleagues have supported some of their customers to attend the Banff Pork Seminar in coordination with our meeting, so it's kind of a win-win situation for both ourselves and the Seminar."
For longtime sponsor PIC Canada, Banff Pork Seminar is all about the exposureDate posted: January 2, 2009
When it comes to promoting a product or service, the challenge for most companies is getting "the most bang for your buck" by hitting the media or events that offer maximum exposure to its target market. The same challenge holds true when attempting to share key research information.
For PIC Canada, a prominent pig genetics company which works with a number of partners on research projects aimed at improving farm management systems, the Banff Pork Seminar serves as a key information transfer tool for its research activities. It's also the reason the company has been a sponsor of the event almost from the beginning, says Jim Haggins with PIC Canada.
"PIC Canada sponsors a number of events across the country that share information with producers, but from both a technical standpoint and a more global perspective, the Banff Pork Seminar is one of our prime events," he says.
"The value we see is its scope of touch with the industry. It started out more as a national event focusing on Western Canada. It then spread across the country attracting broader interest every year. Soon, we saw more and more international production companies every year at the event. As an international breeding company, it just gives us a large picture of exposure."
Banff Pork Seminar has finger on the pulse of global pork communityDate posted: January 2, 2009
When all is said and done, perhaps the biggest news about this year's Banff Pork Seminar is that fact that it reached its sponsorship goal. On the surface, this doesn't seem like much of a surprise - the annual event consistently attracts sponsors and delegates from all over the globe.
However, in a year that has seen economic turmoil both in the pork industry and in the world around it, this accomplishment takes on new meaning. It means that after 37 years, the Banff Pork Seminar's time-tested formula of big-picture thinking and practical "take home" information still has its finger on the pulse of a pork community looking for solutions in an increasingly uncertain world.
"In many ways, the search for knowledge is kind of like the stock market – sometimes the best opportunities exist when the market has taken a downward turn," says BPS committee chair and longtime delegate Bryan Perkins. "Just like the stock market, it's a matter of finding the best learning opportunities to invest in, and the Banff Pork Seminar has built a reputation for being one of the best."
Grounded in profitability
Top speakers on the most relevant topics of the day make this event consistently popular, says Perkins, and the sessions are set up so that attendees can select the options most relevant to them. The goal, says Perkins, is to provide a snapshot of the production, trade, financial and market challenges facing the industry at this point in time.
Although these sessions tackle the pork industry from a number of different angles, their common denominator is that they are all grounded in a fundamental concern for the profitability of the pork industry. "I recall, in past years, sitting through seminars of a highly technical nature where I wasn't necessarily able to understand all the concepts, but I still came out thinking about the industry and our place in the market," says Perkins. "That, to me, has always been an important part of the Banff Pork Seminar experience."
A networking hub
When it comes to networking, most would probably agree that the biggest "bang for your buck" comes from attending events where key industry players are in the same place at the same time. And with several hundred industry participants from all around the globe attending every year, there's a pretty good chance industry leaders from all sectors supplying the pork industry will be at the Banff Pork Seminar, says Perkins.
Location, location, location
If the key to successful marketing is location, then the Banff Pork Seminar's setting in beautiful Banff National Park is one of the event's biggest draws. For this reason and others, the event's appeal goes beyond business, says Perkins.
"I've often thought of the Banff Pork Seminar as an opportunity to get away from day-to-day operations and get my batteries recharged. Over the years, there's been strong support for the event to be held where producers can get away from their farms. That, to me, has always been an important part of it."
Sunterra's 'quality connection'Date posted: December 23, 2008
Why Sunterra Farms circles Banff Pork Seminar on the calendar every year.
Sunterra Farms has about 13,000 sows in Alberta and Ontario with pigs finished in Alberta and Iowa. The main annual event where production teams from both operations get together is the Banff Pork Seminar.
That's with good reason, says Ben Woolley, Vice President of Sunterra Farms, who looks after the company's pig and sheep divisions.
"Everyone at Sunterra has always felt that the Banff Pork Seminar is a very good technical conference," says Woolley. "We always have a pretty good showing of about 15 or so Sunterra people, mostly from our production teams. The educational aspect is first rate. But quite apart for that, for us it's a good team building exercise. For the production guys, it's tough to find a better event to connect with each other and the industry, to have some fun and learn something at the same time."
BPS delivers whole package
Those benefits are a key reason why the Banff Pork Seminar is an attractive event not only for Sunterra but for the many companies and organizations that send strong delegations of their teams every year. They are also big reasons why Sunterra Farms is a long-time sponsor of the event.
"The whole package is what we look at," says Woolley. "First, it's a top notch research and technical seminar, and supporting research is an important part of what Sunterra does. And of course the interaction with everyone who attends the seminar is very good. There's always great representation of the industry and you can connect with everyone in one spot, both in a social sense and business sense. But more than anything else, our sponsorship is about supporting the industry. The seminar is a very worthy cause that is good for the industry as a whole."
Quality is the hallmark of the Sunterra brand from production to retail, from Sunterra Farms and related divisions to the company's Sunterra Market outlets in Calgary and Edmonton. It's also the key trait of the company's association with Banff Pork Seminar. It means quality connection both in a team sense and in terms of interaction with the industry.
For Woolley and many others, the "meetings around the meeting" are also an essential part of the Banff Pork Seminar experience. "Lots of business gets done there. I myself always have a lot of meetings around the seminar. Everybody's there, so things happen."
Quality organization, quality results
As a past chair of the Banff Pork Seminar Committee and current committee member, the benefits of sponsorship are something Woolley sees from both sides. "The Banff Pork Seminar has been very fortunate to have the support of a number of sponsors every year, many who sponsor the event year after year. The seminar simply would not be at anywhere near the level of quality that it is without that support."
Having managed pig production businesses in the United States, Scotland and Canada, and attended key industry events in both continents and beyond, Woolley knows the seminar delivers international level quality, in both the knowledge presented and the stature of the event itself.
A critical element owing to that statue is the core organizing role handled by University of Alberta, he says. "The U of A has done an outstanding job of organizing and running the seminar for what has been a remarkable run now going over 30 years. They're to be commended for the job they've done."
Swinging in the big leagues of swine geneticsDate posted: December 23, 2008
Banff Pork Seminar is where the heavy hitters go to bat with new science.
Talking R&D hardball with the best in the business.
For Newsham Choice Genetics director of marketing Jim Schirmer, that's what makes the Banff Pork Seminar a can't-miss, top-tier global event for both talking business and doing business with the swine industry.
It's why when the second and third largest swine genetics companies in North America combined forces under the Newsham Choice Genetics banner just over one year ago, it didn't take long for the newly minted team to select an event for their coming out party.
"BPS was an excellent fit," says Schirmer. "The event is known around the world as a place where top science and technology is showcased. It's also a place that brings together the technical and marketing people with producers in a setting where sophistication and quality is the mindset. It lends itself to being a little less the glitz and glamour of the straight sales and marketing side, to really down to the core questions of what your business and products are all about."
Right people, products, place.
For a business built on research and development, and getting innovations into the hands of an increasingly sophisticated market, this environment made Banff Pork Seminar a perfect forum to help launch the Newsham Choice Genetics brand, which was formed with Newsham Genetics' acquisition of Monsanto Choice Genetics.
It also makes the event a key part of the annual calendar for Schirmer and his team. For Banff Pork Seminar 2009, Newsham Choice Genetics is once again a major sponsor and will send more than a dozen top technical and marketing representatives to both participate in and do business around the event. "We have lots going on in and around the event," says Schirmer. "For example, our VP of Research and Development is going early for a 'pre-seminar' seminar on genetics with some of the top people who will be there."
The company's suite of genetics solutions includes the Genepacker and SuperMom females and a variety Choice Sire terminal boar lines. For Banff Pork Seminar, the marketing focus is not on any one technology, says Schirmer. "It's really about making an overall statement. The people who participate in BPS are the folks we do business with and want to do business with. It's the place to be, to interact with those people and really develop a quality relationship."
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