The California poultry industry is a money maker, making it one of the Golden State's agricultural leaders. World Poultry talks to Scott Rumbeck from Central Coast Farms to find out how they try to differentiate themselves in a very competitive market.
By Emmy Koeleman
California based Central Coast Farms, formerly known as Central Coast Fryer’s Inc., recently underwent a series of changes to revamp its image by modernising its former company name, relocating its headquarters, updating its websites and creating a new logo. Why? “To get closer to the high end customer via an open and transparent operation, explains Scott Rumbeck, marketing director of Central Coast Farms.
“For example, we got rid of the word “fryer” in our company name, as many people these days don’t know what a fryer is.”Although many Californians may not be familiar with old fashioned words such as fryer, they do have a lot of understanding about food processing, are well informed about agriculture and have strong demands when it comes to animal welfare and husbandry practices. In this respect, California is different than other US states and inclines towards a more European mentality when it comes to raising livestock. For example, California will be the first US state to ban caged eggs from sale as of 2015 and the state has recently approved a set of stricter animal welfare rules (the so-called proposition 2). Rumbeck: “We try to stay very connected to our customer base.
We often do in-store demos, offering cooked product in a meet the farmer type setting. This allows us to strengthen our relationships with our customers by answering the technical questions they may have about the food they eat. Bridging this gap validates who we are and; paired with our antibiotic free, vegetarian fed and optimum care claims, we are able to get our whole message across”.
It is obvious that the company, with its headquarters in Santa Clara, has a clear message to tell. “This is vital to survive in the competitive poultry industry, especially when serving the high end customer that will continually raise questions about the way the chickens were housed, fed and treated,” Rumbeck explains. Working closely with Andrew Carlson, president of Central Coast Farms and a third generation chicken farmer himself, Rumbeck is the heart of the organisation setting out new projects, overseeing the management of the farms and being the face of the company.
Currently, Central Coast Farms employs about 270 employees in total, from grow out to processing. They have partnered with two local poultry processors that are both located near the ranches where the birds are raised. Central Coast Farms grows some of their own grains on a 1,000 acres piece of land in western Nebraska which are then shipped out west to the company’s feed mill in Ceres, California. The aspect of planting, harvesting and monitoring their own grains allows them a traceable concept not offered by competition from a company their size.
Central Coast Farms is far smaller than the vast majority of growers/processors in the country such as Foster Farms. “We don’t shoot for market domination rather target a certain niche. This niche involves a customer base who demands a higher standard of growing, processing and care, this is the market we strive for,” explains Rumbeck. Standards of growing that are implemented on Central Coast Farms poultry flocks are many; natural ventilation, open housing and enriched living conditions, all with an emphasis on creating a stress free environment.
Blue Foot chickens
Because Central Coast Farms serves a health food minded audience, the chickens are delivered to supermarket chains or shops with a focus on natural or organic food. In the meantime, Central Coast Farms has distributed their products in over 30 northern California Whole Foods Markets as the main supplier of poultry products, under an exclusive label. Whole Foods Market is a foods supermarket chain based in Austin, Texas which emphasises “natural” and organic products – having 291 stores in 38 US states.
“Having our products in these popular stores enables us to reach the right target audience,” says Rumbeck. But Central Coast Farms also taps other niche markets. Besides the conventional Cobb 500 broilers, Central Coast Farms differentiates itself by raising a very special breed of chickens – the Blue Foot birds. The Blue Foot, or Poulet Bleu as it’s sometimes called, is a homegrown version of France’s mythical poulet de Bresse. Like its French counterpart, the Blue Foot has a red comb, white feathers, and steel-blue feet - a characteristic so priced that they’re usually left on for table side presentation.
“It’s slaughtered later than mass-market birds, and then air-chilled, two factors that contribute to a firmer texture and a slightly gamey flavour. We can therefore sell these birds at a higher price than our other birds,” explains Rumbeck. Central Coast Farms sells on average about 400 Blue Foot birds per week.
Ready for the future
Central Coast Farms hopes that through their recent efforts - getting closer to the consumers - the company will be able to maintain its smaller family roots, but at the same time, make a bigger name for itself. “We’re really trying to drive the customer to the farmer, to us. Establishing personal relationships with customers is key for us. We’re trying to make sure the focus when our customer sees our label, is on the farmer and family,” said Rumbeck.
But is Central Coast Farms ready for the future, as the United States will follow the European approach on antibiotic use. How to still differentiate yourself if all US broilers are raised without antibiotics. Rumbeck does not worry a minute about that: “It will at least take several years before a possible ban on antibiotics will be implemented in the US, if ever. If this were to happen we have made the connections and relationships that would allow us to continue to serve”.
Facts about the California poultry industry
• More than 15,000 people work for California’s poultry companies, earning more than $US400 million annually.
• Since Californians consume more chicken than any other meat, California’s companies supply half of the chicken consumed in the state and more than 75% of the fresh chicken.
• California poultry companies produce more than 250 million broiler chickens each year. Chicken is ranked 12thamong California’s top commodities, with a farmgate value of US$787 million.
• California poultry companies process more than 700,000 broilers per day.
• In 2008, California’s turkey companies raised more than 16 million turkeys which equated to about 435 million pounds of meat. California ranks among the top 6 states for the amount of turkeys raised.
• California sells more “fresh” and “natural” poultry products than any other state.
• California’s poultry companies are all family-owned. Foster Farms is the state’s largest, by far. Other companies in California include: Central Coast Farms, Diestel Family Turkey Ranch, Grimaud Farms of California, Haley Farms, Pitman Farms, Petaluma Poultry Processors, Shelton’s, Squab Producers of California, Woodland Farms and Willie Bird Turkeys.
• More than 750 different California chicken products are sold in supermarkets and grocery stores throughout the West. From fresh chicken to deli lunch meats, prepared entrées and corn dogs, California companies are producing new products every year.
[Source: California Poultry Federation]