Customers of poultry companies have an increasing level of interest when it comes to what the company is doing in terms of animal welfare.

Whitny Haley, director of animal welfare for Simmons Foods, offered insights as to what Simmons is doing to educate its customers and give them assurance that animal welfare is a high priority during the during the Flocking Together to Address Poultry Welfare Challenges symposium, hosted by the University of Arkansas and the Center for Food Animal Well-Being on October 12.

Haley, who has worked for Simmons Foods for the past 22 years, said when she started working for them, animal welfare was something the company looked at and took care of, but it wasn’t as high on the customers’ priority lists.

Customers would send a questionnaire, mainly of yes or no questions, the Simmons staff would fill out those forms, and there usually wouldn’t be any more communication on those topics until they next year when the customers would come back with essentially the same questions.

That’s not the way things are anymore.

“As we’ve gone on through the years, customers want to be more involved, and they want to get to know you, and know the company, and know what’s going on in animal welfare,” she said.

Customers want to be assured that they can trust the integrators from which they buy poultry products. Haley highlighted some of the ways she and the staff at Simmons instill that trust.

Animal welfare programs

Customers want to see that poultry integrators have animal welfare programs, and Haley said “programs are really big to our company.”

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Customers want to not only know if companies have programs but also if they have programs that cover all areas of animal welfare. This includes how birds are handled from the hatchery to the plant.

Documentation and verification

Documentation is also important to the consumers.

Haley said Simmons Foods has many areas that they check when documenting. But consumers also want to know if there are corrective actions that are being taken when something goes wrong. They want to know what the company does to verify that things go correctly.

Honesty

Poultry companies must always be honest. Mistakes will happen in which a bird may not be handled according to animal welfare programs. For instance, at the plant, a knife cut might be accidentally missed, or a bird might be accidentally mis-stunned.

If such an occurrence happens, admit it, Haley advised.

“We’re always going to be truthful. I’m not one bit scared to show an auditor or a customer that we failed a process on a day in a processing plant,” she said. However, “I want to make sure we have a corrective action. I want to show how we are going to correct that problem. There’s going to be problems. It’s not rainbows and kittens every day at Simmons. I wish it was, but it’s not.”

Making personal connections

When meeting with a buyer, take the effort to get to know the representative as a person, and make sure they get to know you, Haley said.

“I like to make connections. If I’m going to spend a day or two with a customer, I just don’t want to talk chicken, hatcheries, live production and processing plants for the whole eight hours,” she said. “I want to get to know that person.  I’m going to talk about my family. They may not want to hear about it, but they’re going to hear about it a little bit, and I want to know what they do. All combined, it leads to a trust factor,” she said.