Fully integrated poultry producer Sanderson Farms is committed to preserving the same hometown values of respect and trust that have been with the company since it was founded in 1947. This translates into the desire to be a good neighbor to the communities where it sets up shop.
“Respect isn’t something you’re given; it’s something that needs to be earned,” says Bob “Pic” Billingsley, Sanderson’s director of development and engineering. “When we integrate into a community, it is important to be respected in that community.”
The nation’s fourth largest poultry producer, the company has more than 10,000 employees and over 770 independent growers. Its plants in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Georgia process more than 8 million chickens/week.
“[Sanderson Farms] doesn’t try to be the biggest, but we try to be the best,” says Billingsley. “Our goal every day is to be in the top 10% of our industry. When we come to work every day, if you ask any of our employees they’ll tell you that. That’s what we do, and that’s what we’re expected to do.”
According to Billingsley, the company has grown by electing to build new complexes rather than acquiring existing ones because it pays to have design and engineering controls — especially in the feed mill — in place to produce a product to very tight specifications.
“If we build the feed mill, the plant and the hatchery to today’s standards, it gives us an advantage by being able to implement modern environmental practices, to improve employee welfare by creating an environment good for employees, and it allows us to produce a product of the highest quality from a food safety standpoint,” says Billingsley.
Sanderson Farms operates seven feed mills, eight hatcheries and nine processing plants strategically located throughout the Southeast, but in early 2009, Sanderson Farms decided to explore uncharted territory by setting up operations in eastern North Carolina.
Exploring new opportunities
To meet the growing demand for its products, the Laurel, MS-based company selected Kinston, NC for its $121 million effort to build a poultry processing plant, feed mill and hatchery.
“The move to Kinston was purely a marketing decision. We have an established customer base [retail accounts] on the East Coast and as part of our commitment to quality and efficient service, it made sense for us to select a location in North Carolina to be able to respond to our customers’ needs,” explains Billingsley.
The move north will allow the corporation the opportunity to target new business on the East Coast by tapping into a new competitive marketplace.
Sanderson Farms has successfully entered into markets where it had little market share.
“We’ve been able to establish strong customer bases in otherwise untapped markets before — most notably in Texas in 1996 and Georgia in 2005 — we anticipate doing the same here in Kinston,” says Billingsley.
Why Kinston? Sanderson Farms has a list of 50 points of interest in its site selection criteria. Potential plant sites are evaluated and scored based on data gathered touching on key items like the area’s contract grower base, sustainable rail service and environmental concerns; the Kinston area scored favorably in many of these areas.
“We feel [Kinston is] the best location for our operation long term,” Billingsley explains.
General contractor Todd & Sargent began construction on the feed mill in the fall of 2009; and the facility was up and running in mid-November 2010. Feed production will roll out in two parts. Currently, the operation is in Phase I, producing 8,000 to 10,000 tons of feed/week, but the facility has the capacity to produce 20,000 tons of poultry feed once Phase II is underway.