Bell & Evans has begun construction on a 411,500-square-foot organic-certified chicken harvesting facility in Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania. The first precast walls were placed in July, and the complex is scheduled to be operational by late 2021. The project will cost approximately $330 million and double current production capacity.
The company produces 100% antibiotics-free premium chicken and organic chicken, accounting for approximately 60% and 40% of its revenues, respectively. The additional capacity will allow for expansion of organic production to represent about 50% of total output to meet increasing customer demand.
According to a 2019 report by IRI, sales of organic chicken were up 13.1% in the United States over a three-year average, while Bell & Evans generated far greater 69.9% organic growth during the same period. Its wide range of value-added frozen, chilled and fresh pack products is sold at health food markets and upscale supermarket outlets nationwide including Whole Foods, Wegmans, Roche Bros. Supermarkets, Lunds & Byerlys, and Publix. The company’s branded chicken is also found on restaurants menus across the country.
The entire operations plant will be constructed with Thermomass precast concrete exterior walls that provide a superior thermal rating. All production areas will have acid brick flooring to hold up against corrosion, and freezer floors will be insulated with six inches of extruded polystyrene to prevent frost heave. There will be no wood utilized in any production zones nor any painted surfaces in processing spaces. The interior sides of the precast walls are white concrete to offer a bright environment for workers, and many areas of production will have windows to the outside to allow in natural light.
“European-Plus” Construction Quality and Durability
“I have been all over the world, including Europe dozens of times, visiting poultry operations and suppliers,” said Scott Sechler, owner of the fifth-generation family company that has been in business for 125 years. “I have a really good grasp of what’s out there, and like to take the best practices found and make them even better to fit our Bell & Evans model. In Europe, producers have the right mindset. They build to last. I describe our project as European-Plus.”
As animal welfare continues to be top priority, the new harvesting facility will include live receiving area upgrades. An innovative automated transport system eliminates the use of fork trucks to off-load drawers of transported chickens into harvesting zones. An upgraded slow induction anesthesia system will also be utilized, modeled after the version the company pioneered in 2011 that received praise from leading animal welfare advocates.
Sustainability has been considered in every aspect of construction and operations. The entire operation will benefit from a fully computerized utility system that ensures water and energy efficiency and reusage. State-of-the-art processing equipment supplied by Marel and an upgraded 100% air chill system will dramatically reduce water usage in the plant.
Sanitation systems will utilize hot water generated by waste heat at the organic rendering plant, offsetting daily carbon production and reducing the use of a boiler system. The use of hot water instead of chemical agents is an important aspect of organic certification. Additionally, Bell & Evans recycles water from its onsite wastewater treatment plant to wash live haul transportation components.
The construction is being financed with the first “green loan” in the US poultry sector, provided by Rabobank. Jacksonville, Florida-headquartered Stellar is handling all aspects of the design-build project, utilizing an innovative 3-D design with complete equipment placement to allow for real-time collaboration between site managers, equipment vendors and installers.
“I spent more than 50 years in the chicken business making upgrades to old processes and retrofitting facilities with the most innovative equipment, and now to be building these beautiful, state-of-the-art chicken plants from the ground up is a dream come true,” said Sechler.
The work in progress sits on a 112-acre greenfield property where a second new harvesting facility of similar scale will be built within the next ten years to triple current production.