Project will cost approximately $330 million and double current production capacity.

September 8, 2020

4 Min Read

Poultry producer Bell & Evans has begun construction on a new 411,500 sq. ft., organic-certified chicken harvesting facility in Fredericksburg, Pa. 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 will double its current production capacity.

Bell & Evans produces 100% premium raised without antibiotics chicken and organic chicken, which comprise approximately 60% and 40% of its business, respectively. 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 a 2019 report by IRI, U.S. organic chicken sales rose 13.1% over a three-year average, while Bell & Evans experienced 69.9% organic growth over that same period.

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, according to the company. 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 6 in. of extruded polystyrene to prevent frost heave. No wood will be utilized in any production areas, and there will be no painted surfaces in any processing spaces. 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," Bell & Evans owner Scott Sechler said. "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'."

Animal welfare also continues to be top priority for Bell & Evans. The new harvesting facility will include upgrades to the 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 leading animal welfare advocates, the company said.

Bell & Evans noted that 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 said it recycles water from its on-site wastewater treatment plant to wash live-haul transportation components.

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

"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," Sechler said.

The new harvesting facility sits on Bell & Evans' 112-acre greenfield Chicken Harvesting Campus, where a second new harvesting facility of similar scale will be built within the next 10 years to triple current production. In addition, extra hatchers were added to the hatchery to increase capacity and support this growth. A new wastewater treatment plant is also currently under construction.

Bell & Evans is sold nationally at premium health food markets and upscale retailers, including Whole Foods Market, Wegmans Food Markets, Roche Bros. Supermarkets, Lunds & Byerlys and Publix, among others. Bell & Evans branded chicken can also be found on the menus of top restaurants in the country, according to the company.

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