Poultry producer Bell & Evans has announced more details on the 411,500-square-foot organic certified chicken harvesting facility under construction on the company’s 112-acre Fredericksburg campus, to be operational late next year.
The project will cost in the neighborhood of $330 million and double current production capacity, according to a company press release.
Designed by the Jacksonville, Fla.-based firm Stellar using 3-D technology, the new facility will allow Bell & Evans to expand its organic production from 40 percent to approximately 50 percent of its total output.
The release cited a 2019 report by IRI showing U.S. organic chicken sales up 13.1 percent over a three-year average, with Bell & Evans experiencing 69.9 percent organic growth over that time frame.
The fifth-generation family-owned business, which also makes chicken products without antibiotics, sells in high-end health food stores and retailers such as Whole Foods Market and Wegmans.
The Bell & Evans site in Fredericksburg employs about 1,800 total in production, hatching operations, office staff, and transportation, company spokesperson Heath Hitz wrote in an email.
“The new facility will require approximately 1,200 production team members to operate, all of which will be filled by existing team members initially,” she continued. “Significant technology upgrades and efficiencies in our process, equipment and automation will allow us to manage the increased production with our existing team.”
Hitz added that the original harvesting facility will be renovated in 2022 to serve other needs in processing, packaging or warehousing.
The new chicken harvesting facility is being constructed from durable, high-quality materials and finishes for longevity, sanitation and food safety. Abundant windows are designed to draw in natural light.
“I have been all over the world, including Europe dozens of times, visiting poultry operations and suppliers,” Bell & Evans owner Scott Sechler said in the release. “I have a really good grasp of what’s out there, and I like to take the best practices I find and make them even better to fit our Bell & Evans model. In Europe, producers have the right mindset. They build to last. I describe our project as ‘European-Plus.'”
Citing animal welfare as a top priority, Bell & Evans is including an upgraded slow induction anesthesia system, according to the release.
Sustainability is a goal, too. Bell & Evans said the new facility — financed by a green loan, the first for a U.S. poultry producer — will be powered with 55 percent waste heat and reduce its carbon emissions by the same amount. Millions of gallons of water each year will be saved by the water chilling system.
More expansion is planned, as well.
“We have secured permits to build a second new harvesting facility of similar scale and location as the one being constructed today,” Hitz told LebTown. “That’s part of our 10-year business plan. We anticipate significant job creation over the next few years to support continued growth and expansion, with an estimated additional 1,200 jobs over time.”
She noted that the expansion and upgrades also offer the opportunity for in-house promotion, for positions requiring advanced skills.
Video Tour of New Facility
Provided by Bell & Evans.