Bell & Evans has started construction on a new 411,500-square-foot, organic-certified chicken harvesting facility in Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania.

The first precast walls were placed in July, and the facility will be operational by late 2021. The project will cost the company approximately $330 million and double its current production capacity. Bell & Evans, also known as Farmers Pride Inc., processed 4.1 million pounds of ready-to cook chicken on a weekly basis in 2019, making it presently the 21st largest broiler company in the United States.

Bell & Evans produces 100% premium raised without antibiotics chicken and organic chicken, which respectively makes up about 60% and 40% of its business. The additional capacity will allow Bell & Evans to continue expanding its organic production to approximately 50% of total production to meet increasing customer demands. According to this 2019 report by IRI, U.S. organic chicken sales are up 13.1% over a 3-year average, while Bell & Evans experienced 69.9% organic growth over that same period.

Bell & Evans is sold nationally at retailers including Whole Foods Market, Wegmans Food Markets, Roche Bros. Supermarkets, Lunds & Byerlys, and Publix. Bell & Evans branded chicken is also on many restaurant menus.

Built for longevity and food safety

The new "European-Plus" chicken harvesting facility is being built from the most durable and highest quality materials and finishes for food safety and longevity, the company says. The entire operations area will be constructed with Thermomass precast concrete exterior walls that provide superior thermal rating. All production floors will have acid brick flooring to hold up against corrosion, and freezer floors will be insulated with six inches of extruded polystyrene to prevent frost heave. There will be no wood utilized in any production areas nor any painted surfaces in processing spaces. The interior sides of the precast walls are white concrete to offer a bright environment for production team members, and many areas of production will have windows to the outside to allow in natural light.

"I have been all over the world, including Europe dozens of times, visiting poultry operations and suppliers," said Bell & Evans Owner Scott Sechler. "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'."

Focus on animal welfare

Animal welfare continues to be top priority for Bell & Evans. The new plant will include upgrades to what Sechler describes as an already superior live receiving area. An innovative automated transport system eliminates the use of fork trucks to off-load drawers of chickens from transportation into harvesting. An upgraded slow induction anesthesia system will also be utilized in the new facility, modeled after the version Bell & Evans pioneered in 2011 that received praise from animal welfare advocates.

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Sustainability

Bell & Evans says sustainability is largely considered in every aspect of construction and operations. The entire new chicken harvesting facility will operate from a fully computerized utility system that ensures water and energy efficiency and reusage. State-of-the-art processing equipment from Marel and an upgraded 100% air chill system will dramatically reduce water usage in the plant. Sanitation systems will utilize hot water generated by waste heat at the organic rendering plant, offsetting daily carbon production and reducing the use of a boiler system. The use of hot water instead of chemical agents is an important aspect of organic certification. Additionally, Bell & Evans recycles water from its onsite wastewater treatment plant to wash live haul transportation components.

The new organic-certified chicken harvesting facility is being financed with the first green loan in U.S. poultry, provided by Rabobank. 

Bell & Evans contracted design-build firm Stellar for a third time. New for this construction, an innovative 3-D design with complete equipment placement allows for real-time collaboration between project managers, equipment vendors, installers, and Bell & Evans production to ensure no real-life interferences and allow for virtual walk-throughs and training. Stellar was the engineer of Bell & Evans' 2015 further processing and packaging facility and 2017 world's first organic certified, animal-welfare-focused chicken hatchery.

"I spent more than 50 years in the chicken business making upgrades to old processes and retrofitting facilities with the most innovative equipment, and now to be building these beautiful, state-of-the-art chicken plants from the ground up is a dream come true," said Sechler.

Bell & Evans' new harvesting facility sits on the company's 112-acre greenfield chicken harvesting campus where a second new harvesting facility of similar scale will be built within the next ten years to triple current production. In addition, extra hatchers were added to the company’s hatchery to increase capacity to support the growth. A new wastewater treatment plant is also currently under construction. All of Bell & Evans operations are located within a three-mile radius of the small, rural town of Fredericksburg.