Costco’s new broiler farming operation in the heart of the United States will enable it to challenge the sector’s major companies, such as Tyson Foods, Perdue, Sanderson Farms and Pilgrim’s Pride.
The company will open a new plant in Fremont, eastern Nebraska next year which will provide it with 100m chickens or 40% of its annual needs.
Its new company Lincoln Premium Poultry will process 2 million birds a week in a 360,000 square foot facility that will employ around 1,000 staff and be one of the most technologically advanced in the world.
Walt Shafer, who is leading the construction and operation of the new plant, said earlier this year that birds brought in will be handled in the best and most humane way possible. “You set a module in a chicken house and – whereas the industry uses what we call cages where you open a door and put the chickens in – we slide the floors away and put the chickens in. And we think that is going to be a lot better for the handling and the welfare of the bird,” he told Meatingplace magazine.
The company is working with Marel Poultry over the use of robotic IRIS visual grading technology: “We’re using vision technology to essentially take 360 degree pictures of these birds as they go buy, where we can then distribute them by weight and by grade.
“This facility also has automatic thigh deboning in it. It actually has robots that pick up the boneless breast meat, thigh meat, drumsticks – all the Costco products – and puts them in the package, eliminating labour.”
With automatic transfers and maturation air chilling, the plant will supply a huge amount of data enabling the company to see how every machine is performing.
Costco has also announced that it plans to tighten standards for antibiotics use by its meat producers. Its new policy limits use of antibiotics to “therapeutic use” and there is a requirement for use to be under supervision of a vet.
The new standards will become “mandatory and monitored” no later than December 2020, and according to analysts will put the company near the top of the league in terms of strict antibiotic policies.