Good Citizen

Employee initiatives are a big part of the equationfor success at Perdue Farms’ Perry, Ga., facility.

At a time when corporate greed and disgruntled employees are routine fodder for the front-page news, it’s easy to forget that many companies still care a great deal about their employees. Perdue Farms is a fine example — the company recognizes that its employees’ well-being — and its involvement within the community — are essential to its success.
Perdue Farms’ Perry, Ga., poultry-processing plant goes one step further with its good citizenship efforts. Through Georgia’s Vocational Rehabilitation Program, the Perry facility provides job opportunities to people with disabilities and people in need of injury-related career rehabilitation.
In the past year, says Richard Jamison, Perry complex manager, the plant hired 60 percent of the candidates referred by the program, or 30 people. Eight of those candidates are disabled, and 22 are career rehabilitation team members.
These efforts netted the plant’s human-resources team “2005 Employer of the Year” honors from the Georgia Department of Labor.
“The Perdue Farms human-resources team exudes sincerity, care and concern,” said Jimmie Washington, rehabilitation specialist with the Georgia Department of Labor. “They demonstrate humaneness in the treatment of people in general, and particularly persons with disabilities, which is an evident representation of spirit, excellence and dedication, all symbolic of the principles of good citizenship.”
The 650,000-sq.-ft. Perry plant (500,000 sq. ft. for fresh operations, 150,000 sq. ft. for cooking operations) also is a productivity giant. Purchased by Perdue Farms from Cagle’s in January 2004, the facility has been earmarked as crucial to supporting the company’s growth in both retail and foodservice, notes Jamison, and is being transformed into “one of the country’s most modern and efficient food production facilities.”
The plant’s 1,930 employees turn out more than 100 million pounds of product annually, including fresh whole birds, net-weight tray-pack and individually quick-frozen (IQF), portion-control breast filets and raw materials for foodservice, and fully cooked breaded and glazed products for retail and foodservice. Perdue recently invested $13 million for upgrades, and it plans to incorporate several line expansions over the next five years and ultimately add 1,500 associates to the plant.
“Perdue Farms looks to invest $146 million by 2009 to expand the Perry operation,” notes Jamison. “We are adding a cooking plant to the facility and plan to double the capacity of the existing processing plant. We also plan to open a distribution center at the site.”
The facility also has a plan in place to ensure its environmental performance remains strong as it grows.
“Perdue has always been an environmentally responsible company,” Jamison says. “To prepare for our growth, we are currently spending$5.2 million to upgrade our water treatment facilities.”
The Perry plant, which twice completed one million hours without a lost-time accident, also incorporated industry best practices in the areas of food safety, people safety and efficient low-cost operation into the cook plant design, notes Richard Rateau, operations manager in charge of the cook plant operations and expansion. That design makes room for growth and flexibility to accommodate innovative packaging systems.
Recognizing that healthy employees are more productive employees, Perdue Farms adopted a proactive approach to employee wellness. In fact, the company earned an honorable mention in the 2005 C. Everett Koop Health Awards for its Health Inprovement Program (HIP), which encourages associates to participate in a health screening and behavior modification program.
Although employee productivity will be important to the Perry plant’s expanding operations, the right leadership mix also will be essential.
“There’s been a lot of creative problem-solving, and it’s going to pay off with a world-class operation,” stresses Rateau. NP
Kathie Canning is executive editor of Stagnito’s Refrigerated & Frozen Foods magazine.

A conversation with Richard Jamison and Richard Rateau
Richard Jamison, Perry complex manager focusing on the fresh processing facility, and Richard Rateau, operations manager in charge of the cook plant operations and expansion, talk about the plant’s ongoing transformation.

Q: What were your greatest plant achievements during the past year?
Richard Jamison: This year marked a successful continuation of the conversion of Perry from an ice-pack plant producing primarily commodity whole birds to one of only a few net-weight, tray-pack plants in the country.
That involved everything from new house construction to new cone lines for breast deboning. We increased staffing from 1,000 to more than 1,700. That meant retraining existing associates and training new associates, something we accomplished with the assistance of Georgia’s QuickStart program.  
I’m really proud of our team members. They established Perdue Perry as a reliable supplier, while upholding our company’s reputation for quality and food safety.
Richard Rateau: Throughout the year, we hired our core group of leaders and now have a leadership team in place. We’ve been able to involve the team members in the process of building their plant, tapping each person’s expertise to improve the layout and process flow. We were able to build in the highest levels of people safety and food safety while focusing on efficiencies and low-cost production.
Q: What were your greatest challenges during this same time period, and how did you address those challenges?
Jamison: Our biggest challenge was the rapid growth of the operation, in terms of both increased volume and new processes. We met the challenge through training, training and more training. We had a lot of support from our sister Perdue plants and our corporate group. Georgia’s QuickStart program has been a big help.
Rateau: We were faced with the challenges of fitting our processes into an existing building, converting a former brewery into a modern food plant and dealing with all the unknowns of a major renovation and construction project. At the same time we were designing a plant to support the company’s growth, we also had to develop a realistic ramp-up plan that will meet the current needs of the business.
The excitement of building a state-of-the-art food plant from concept to go-live helped us attract top talent from throughout the company and the industry. We also brought in people with relevant experience outside the food industry. With the diversity of our leadership team, we have a lot of people who can bring fresh perspectives.
Q: What industry issues trouble you the most in terms of plant operations, and what steps are you taking to address these concerns?
Jamison: Nothing is more important than maintaining consumer confidence. We need to continue to develop innovative products and respond to changing consumer habits. But for per-capita poultry consumption to continue to increase and to allow our industry to grow globally, we must provide products of the highest quality with highest levels of food safety. Our plant does this by designing processes that ensure quality and food safety, fully training our team members and implementing controls to assure compliance.
Rateau: On the cook plant, there is yet another level of food safety. We designed the plant with walls to keep the areas separate, and developed SOPs for transfer between the two areas. NP