January 2020 marked the conclusion of an important agreement between US premium poultry producer Bell & Evans and Marel. For Marel, the construction of a state-of-the-art greenfield poultry harvesting plant in Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania means one of the largest transactions in company history. It is remarkable that the two companies have very similar values which definitely tighten their partnership. They share the same vision for sustainability, animal well-being and food safety, and they both have their own, willful way of transforming the industry.

Selling its premium products mainly in the domestic retail market, Bell & Evans really makes a statement in the US food industry, stimulating the trend towards a more sustainable consumption. The new greenfield plant will certainly boost the sales of organic chicken products. Marel will fully equip two processing lines, each with a capacity of 140 bpm, prepared for 175 bpm.

“We are very pleased to cooperate with Bell & Evans in this milestone project because we share the same values. It is through partnerships with companies like Bell & Evans that we realize our vision of transforming the way food is processed,” says Roger Claessens, Executive Vice President of Marel Poultry. “Bell & Evans is known to add maximum value to the entire chain, by maintaining highest production quality from egg to end product. The company recognizes that only a strong partnership, covering the entire processing line can raise the quality of poultry processing to the same high level. We’re happy that Marel can contribute to this final link in their value chain.”

100% Rule
“At Bell & Evans, we believe that if you’re committed to do the right thing, you should commit 100%. We call it the 100% Rule,” says owner Scott Sechler.

An important part of Bell & Evans’ 100% rule is that they’re fully committed to premium and organic chicken, no commodity. Moving the bar higher than US regulations, Bell & Evans is the real US pioneer in organic chickens. It even has the world’s first organic-certified, animal welfare focused chicken hatchery where chicks have immediate access to organic feed, fresh water and light and are not handled by machinery. In June 2019, Bell & Evans fully transitioned to its new ‘Das Klassenbester’ chicken, a higher-welfare, Grade A breed of broilers, which completely replaced the existing breed of chickens.

Humane treatment
Chicken well-being is a priority in Bell & Evans’ 100% Rule. For more than 20 years, Bell & Evans chickens are raised without antibiotics and within a unique, low stress management system from egg to farm to processing and including transportation. Bell & Evans’ standards significantly exceed those of USDA Certified Organic.  

Like Marel, Bell & Evans focuses on animal well-being during transport from farm to harvesting plant. Its farms are located less than an hour’s drive, on average, from the processing facility and chickens are transported in state-of-the-art live bird transportation systems. Bell & Evans thrives to handle its chickens with the upmost care, so they partnered with Marel to purchase its entire ATLAS automated transport system. This system eliminates the use of forklifts and minimizes stress during unload by reducing noise, light, sound and movement to offer a smooth transition from the trailer into its Slow Induction Anesthesia (SIA).

Bell & Evans first introduced SIA in 2011 and humane anesthesia was again high on the priorities for the new harvesting plant. Slow Induction Anesthesia, a more humane version of Controlled Atmosphere Stunning, has been proven to be the most humane way of putting birds to sleep. It was, therefore, an easy decision for Bell & Evans to proceed with a multistage CAS SmoothFlow anesthetization for their new processing plant.

Air chilling
Another key point of difference for Bell & Evans is 100% Air Chilling. Since 2005, the company has utilized 100% Air Chill for 100% of its chicken production, a first and only in the industry. It’s their way to transform US food processing and provide another level of quality to the consumer. Other US poultry processors produce chlorinated water chilled chicken or use a hybrid of air chill with water chill. It’s not surprising that Bell & Evans partners with Marel, the authority in air chilling for decades with a large technical patent portfolio. Through the partnership, Bell & Evans have tapped into this process know-how to ensure premium quality products.

After 100% Air Chill, products are distributed and cut-up in a Marel ACM-NT line, including a Q-Wing solution for wing part selection. Unique to the US are the automated in-line thigh and drumstick deboning systems, already an upcoming trend in Europe. “In fact, we’re a European-minded company that’s located in the United States,” says Sechler.

Traceability from farm to fork
Bell & Evans also commits 100% to traceability. The traceability process in the new Fredericksburg facility is unique to the US. Right from entering the processing plant until packaging, each chicken can be traced back in the process down to which flock and which farm it came from. Marel’s food processing software Innova not only ensures this traceability program but will also connect all solutions throughout the plant, collect and analyze data and offer Bell & Evans plant staff the information they need to run highly efficient operations.

“Marel is the only company in the world that has all the pieces figured out and in place together to offer a truly remarkable poultry processing system that I’m proud to use in our new harvesting plant,” says Sechler.