As poultry giant Bell & Evans ramps up construction on a massive $263 million facility slated to open in 2020, the Lebanon County company on Thursday offered a rare glimpse of one of its current plants.
Company owner Scott Sechler and his two children, Scott Jr., or “Buddy,” and Margo, led a tour of the Bethel Township facility for members of the Wolf administration. The tour included a stop at the company’s hatchery facility.
The group included Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin, Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and state Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon).
In April, the company and the Wolf administration announced an expansion project that entails building a 560,000-square-foot poultry processing facility. The plant is expected to create nearly 1,100 full-time jobs over the next three years.
The new plant will house four processing lines, each able to process 600,000 birds per week for a company that already handles about a million birds per week.
The new facility is being built on a 90-acre tract of land along Chestnut Hill Road, next to the company’s processing plant. Bell & Evans said it needs to expand due to increased demand for its all-natural and organic chicken products.
Much of that demand is coming from big retail names such as Whole Foods Market and Wegmans, as well as restaurant chain Chipotle.
In fact, Whole Foods buys about $3 million worth of product every week, Sechler said on the tour.
The expansion could push Bell & Evans to about 3,000 employees across its various facilities. As the company grows, so do opportunities for its livestock and grain producers.
Sechler said his company has seen growing interest from dairy farmers in need of more stable income, as many have struggled with low milk prices or lost contracts. Many chicken farmers within an hour of Bell & Evans have been building new chicken houses to boost the number of birds they can sell to the company.
Bell & Evans currently buys chickens from about 170 to 180 farms. The new processing facility will push that number to more than 300 farms in 15 surrounding counties.
“He is growing his company as fast as any company I’ve seen,” Davin said of Sechler after the tour.
Davin said DCED will continue to look for ways to help bring other companies that supply Bell & Evans to Pennsylvania, or help existing partners expand operations.
For example, as demand for organic chicken grows, the need to supply more organic feed for the chickens will also grow. Bell & Evans also will have growing needs for packaging to ship its products.
Davin sees the expansion at Bell & Evans as a way to preserve farms in Pennsylvania.
“This is an old chicken town,” Sechler said as the group looked at old news clips and other company memorabilia hanging on the walls of the facility. “And we’re going to keep it alive.”