Sales of organic poultry in the United States are set to grow further following the announcement this week that Whole Foods chicken supplier Bell and Evans is to build a new plant with an eye to increasing its organic output.
Bell and Evans is set to triple its total production by constructing a new 560,000 square foot processing plant in Pennsylvania. It will have a capacity to process 2.6m birds a week and is scheduled to open in early 2020.
Figures released by the United States Department of Agriculture in late September show a huge rise in organic sales of broiler chickens last year. Sales rose by 78% to $750m, making it the largest growing market in the organic sector. Egg sales rose by 11% to $816m.
Currently, 30% of Bell and Evans’ production is organic with every bird raised without antibiotics and 100% air-chilled. The company is also looking to move to a higher-welfare, slower-growing breed of bird, the Klassenbester. It believes the breed will net higher quality products without white-striping and tough, woody breasts.
All of its poultry will be Klassenbester by the end of 2018, making the firm the first in the US to fully convert to a higher-welfare, slower-growing, more flavourful breed. Owner Scott Sechler started pursuing options for a better-quality breed of bird in 2015. Working with European breeders, a speciality female breed was selected for its slow growth and high meat yield. A male breed was chosen for its excellent meat yield, fertility and liveability rates.
“This is a big deal. So farm, our testing has nested healthy, hardy chickens that result in great-tasting, high-quality product with lots of flavour,” he said.
The new breed will average 5.6lbs over 47-50 days, extending the growth cycle by 15% and reducing unnecessary stress, resulting in better overall health.
Larger firms in the US are also developing their own organic and slower-growing lines. Perdue has invested time and money in its organic range, and currently sees annual growth of between 20-25%.