Harrison McCain was a Canadian business magnate and philanthropist known for co-founding McCain Foods Limited, a global leader in the frozen food industry. Born on November 3, 1927, in Florenceville, New Brunswick, Harrison McCain’s entrepreneurial spirit and dedication led him to become one of Canada’s most successful businessmen.
Harrison McCain was raised in Florenceville, New Brunswick, Canada. He was the eldest of five children born to Andrew and Laura McCain. His father was a farmer, and his mother worked as a teacher. Growing up in a small farming community, McCain developed a strong work ethic and a deep appreciation for agriculture.
In 1956, at the age of 29, McCain, his brother Wallace, and other family members established McCain Foods in Florenceville. Initially. Leveraging a C$100,000 inheritance, he created a processing plant within a cow pasture to utilize the local potato yield. This operation initially employed 30 individuals from his hometown of Florenceville, New Brunswick, which had less than 1000 residents.
McCain remained at the headquarters of the blossoming business, which eventually sold around C$6bn worth of goods annually, including one third of the world’s French fries. The company, valued at approximately C$6.4bn (£2.3bn), employed about 18,000 people across 55 sites in 10 different countries. In that year, Forbes Magazine listed McCain as the 472nd billionaire globally, estimating his personal net worth to be just under £1bn.
The son of a seed potato exporter, McCain initially worked as a salesman for Irving Oil, a Canadian company, post his graduation in economics from Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, in 1949. He was known for his straightforward, unfiltered communication style and had the persona of a quintessential American business tycoon—charming, always ready to smile, completely focused on his business, and was excellent at generating revenue. His patience, however, was tested when dealing with relatives who joined him early in the business but later deviated from their initial commitments.
Under Harrison McCain’s leadership as the CEO, McCain Foods grew exponentially, establishing numerous production facilities worldwide.
Harrison’s thriving business led him to acquire an American competitor, Ore-Ida, for approximately £350m in 1997. He was renowned for his expertise in creating straight-cut fries, crinkle-cut fries, and round fries sculpted to resemble smiling faces. In addition to this, he also ventured into the production of fruit juice and other frozen foods such as vegetables, pizzas, and desserts. His business prowess earned him multiple accolades, including the Canadian Business Statesman Award from the Harvard Business School, Toronto, in 1988. He was also honored as the Financial Post’s Chief Executive Officer of the Year in 1990.
McCain Foods revolutionized the food industry by introducing innovative frozen food products. Their commitment to quality and taste made them a trusted brand globally. The company’s success can be attributed to Harrison McCain’s astute business acumen, dedication to excellence, and relentless pursuit of customer satisfaction.
He has been called “The Canadian pioneer of the oven chip”. McCain was also nicknamed the “King of the French Fry” for his invention of a pre-chilled chip that could be easily prepared in the oven.
McCain held a position on the board of directors at the Bank of Nova Scotia, and he also shared a close personal relationship with Cedric Ritchie, the bank’s chairman. Ritchie hailed from Upper Kent, a community located near McCain’s.
As a benefactor, Harrison’s contributions to the arts were acknowledged in 1999 when he was appointed as the chairman of the board of trustees for the National Gallery of Canada. However, his family life and personal circumstances were complex, and perhaps he sought solace in his public reputation.
Despite the Mayor of Florenceville, Dave Morgan, referring to him as a great friend and leader, and expressing the community’s loss after his death, his personal life experienced tragic events. His wife succumbed to cancer in 1995. His son Peter, who had been assigned as president of McCain Foods International, tragically passed away at the age of 39 after a snowmobile accident on the family’s airstrip in Florenceville.
McCain is survived by his four children, Mark, Ann, Laura and Gillian.
Harrison McCain’s entrepreneurial ventures and his significant contributions to McCain Foods propelled him to great financial success. At the time of his passing in 2004, his estimated net worth was around $1.4 billion CAD.
Harrison McCain’s contributions to the business world earned him numerous accolades throughout his career. Here are some highlights: