Meat Your Markets By Mack Graves
Mack Graves has worked in animal-food proteins for the past 39 years, specializing in corporate strategy, management focus and marketing effectiveness across the protein chain.

Chicken processing at its best

(The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.)

Recently, I saw a YouTube video of a new state-of-the-art 411,500-square-foot chicken harvesting facility located in Fredericksburg, Pa., that upends nearly everything the chicken industry has held sacrosanct and which will set the standard for future plants until a better one comes along. Bell & Evans chicken company opened its new plant after spending $360 million on improving and reinventing nearly every part of the old chicken processing routine.

I am sure that other chicken companies will have to keep up with the new B&E plant standard if they want to continue to capture their fair share of the consumers’ stomachs. 

In my old chicken days, we kept up with competition by analyzing not competitor plants but the chicken products those plants produced. I can vividly remember during my days at an Eastern Shore chicken company trying to keep the owner satisfied that we were producing the market’s finest chicken by measuring our chicken products against the competition’s. Every few months we would ask our in-market representatives to go out and buy both our competitor’s chickens including whole birds, parts and everything in between as well as ours to make a comparison of what the consumer sees. And, what competitive chicken did we buy? We started with Bell & Evans, of course. All of this “store bought” product was then brought into our main office, analyzed by our quality control crew and compared to ours. We wanted to know what our competitors did to make their chickens better than ours.

As an example, was it small little feathers that we couldn’t find on our competitor’s chickens but somehow were resident on ours? What was it about the competitor’s chickens that was identifiable by consumers that made our chickens look deficient? 

Of more importance, what needed to be changed in our processing plants to make our chicken better than our competitors’? Then we did it. 

From viewing the B& E video, it sure seems to me that they didn’t just start the new plant planning by first trying to make chicken processing more efficient. No, they started with the idea of how to make their chickens better in every way from grow out to final product packaging and just what needed to be done in the plant to accomplish that. What a novel concept! Make it better, not just cheaper.

Sure, there are still those in any consumer product marketing game who want to “price it cheap and sell a heap.” And, they do. But, there is always someone who can make something cheaper. And, for a while, the cheap competitor sells more. But, it doesn’t last. In today’s world, consumers are just too smart to put up with “cheap” without quality.

The thing that encourages me is that I am starting to see other meat and poultry companies upgrade their plants. They are viewing the consumer through the correct lens of the binoculars, not the wrong minimizing end. Such a consumer focus as any true marketer will tell you is the correct one. But, I know that trying to stay competitive in a cut-throat consumer marketplace is not for the weak. It is for the strong. Too many times price becomes a barrier to growth. Quality, however, should be the fundamental of any growth model.

Our U.S. poultry marketplace is not for the faint of heart. To underscore, please understand that weekly over 150 million chickens, give or take, are processed for human consumption. That makes for  a competitive battle that can only be truly won by quality. The seduction a cheap price offers lasts only a short time and then it is gone, forever.

Let’s keep the plant improvements going, as they are evidence that we are really listening to our consumers and doing something they can measure.

As far as the owner of the chicken company I worked for was concerned, Bell & Evans set the quality standard back in the day, and they are still doing it today. I applaud them!


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