- Bell & Evans, the country’s oldest chicken producer, is building a new 560,000 square foot processing plant in Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania to keep up with demand for organic poultry, according to Bloomberg.
- The company expects to triple production once the new facility opens in 2020. It also intends to expand its organic chicken line and transition all of its birds to a slower-growing breed that reportedly improves flavor and addresses animal welfare concerns.
- Bell & Evans is a poultry supplier for Whole Foods, Wegmans and other premium grocers and butchers.
As consumers demand more protein in their diets, chicken processors are poised to benefit. Americans eat nearly twice as much chicken (90 pounds per year) as they do beef and pork (58 and 50 pounds, respectively), according to the National Chicken Council.
U.S. demand for organic poultry in particular is through the roof, with organic chicken sales up 78% last year to $750 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This makes chicken the third-largest organic agriculture commodity, with a market size trailing only that of milk and eggs.
In response, large poultry companies have joined smaller competitors in developing their own organic lines. Perdue, in particular, has invested a lot of time and money in its organic chickens, and now sees yearly growth in the 20% to 25% range for the category, according to reports.
For consumers that don't see the full value of organic, or simply don't want to buy it all the time, meat raised without antibiotics has become a popular alternative. Consumers are concerned that when producers use antibiotics in meat that are also used in humans, those antibiotics can become less useful to humans — and help fuel the rise of antibiotic-resistant "superbugs." About 2 million people in America contract antibiotic-resistant infections every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. More than 23,000 individuals die.
Perdue, Tyson and Pilgrim's Pride have all made commitments to reduce or eliminate certain antibiotics across their entire chicken supply chains. Cargill has even devised a way to use essential oils to reduce or replace use of antibiotics in poultry.
All of this demand has caused an explosion in new poultry facilities. In addition to the new facility announcement by Bell & Evans, Tyson, Foster Farms, Costco and Sanderson Farms have all recently announced new processing plants.
With increased supply of antibiotic-free and organic chicken, consumers now can find all-natural meats at most mainstream supermarkets, with prices more affordable than those found at Whole Foods. Prices for the relatively inexpensive protein source are likely to fall even more once Bell & Evans' new production facility comes online, and as other chicken processors grow their facilities.