Aerial rendering of the new chicken harvesting facility.
Premium poultry producer Bell & Evans began construction on a new 411,500-sq. ft., Organic-Certified Chicken Harvesting Facility at the company's home base in Fredericksburg, Pa., earlier this summer.
The first precast walls were placed in July, and the Lebanon County facility will be operational by late 2021. The project will cost the company approximately $330 million and double its current production capacity.
Bell & Evans produces 100 percent premium, raised without antibiotics chicken and organic chicken, approximately 60 percent and 40 percent, respectively, of its business. The additional capacity will allow the poultry producer to continue expanding its organic production to approximately 50 percent of total production to meet increasing customer demands.
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. Its branded chicken also can be found on the menus of many of the best restaurants in the country.
According to the company, its 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 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.
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'."
At Bell & Evans, sustainability is largely considered in every aspect of plant construction and operations. The entire Fredericksburg chicken harvesting facility will operate from a fully computerized utility system that ensures water and energy efficiency and reusage. Modern processing equipment from Marel and an upgraded 100 percent Air Chill system will dramatically reduce water usage in the plant.
Sanitation systems will utilize hot water generated by waste heat at the nearby organic rendering plant, offsetting daily carbon production and reducing the use of a boiler system. Utilizing 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 is committed to environmental, sustainable and humane-welfare practices in accordance with the Green Loan Principles.
The poultry producer has contracted with The Stellar Group as the design-build firm for the Pennsylvania plant. This marks the third time Bell & Evans has brought in Stellar, based in Jacksonville, Fla., to build one of its facilities. Stellar was the engineer of Bell & Evans' 2015 Further Processing and Packaging Facility, and the world's first Organic Certified, Animal-Welfare-Focused Chicken Hatchery in 2017. Both poultry plants are in Fredericksburg.
The newest Bell & Evans organic chicken plant construction is an innovative 3-D design with complete equipment placement that 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.
"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 facility sits on the company's 112-acre greenfield chicken harvesting campus where a second harvesting plant of similar scale will be built within the next 10 years to triple current production. A new wastewater treatment plant also is under construction.
All Bell & Evans' operations sites are located within a 3 mi. radius in rural Lebanon County, Pa.
The poultry producer is a fifth-generation family-owned business and America's oldest branded chicken company, celebrating 125 years in business and 10 years of organic production.