In 1939, Max and Verda Foster borrowed $1,000 against a life insurance policy, invested in an 80-acre farm near Modesto, Calif., and began raising turkeys. The original hatchery was built right off their bedroom because the eggs required around-the-clock care.
Today, Foster Farms employs more than 12,000 people and works with more than 30 family-owned farms in Washington and Oregon to produce comprehensive lines of fresh, frozen, ready-to-cook, marinated and deli poultry products for retail and foodservice.
In the past year and a half, Foster Farms, Livingston, Calif., introduced six new branded product lines and added 46 new SKUs, including Sauté Ready, Sausage and Pancake Wraps and three new frozen cooked chicken varieties—Shredded, Diced and Gluten Free Parmesan Chicken Meatball. On the fresh side, it debuted Simply Raised and Foster Farms branded organic fresh chicken lines, as well as Foster Farms organic ground and whole turkey products.
Foster Farms also introduced a new logo and packaging across its fresh and frozen cooked chicken lines to appeal to the modern consumer, says Greta Remington, director of innovation. Foster Farms’ Sauté Ready, for example, comes in a resealable package, requires no prep/no cleanup and goes from freezer to skillet to table in about 10 minutes.
To meet the evolving needs of customers, Foster Farms continues to invest more than $100 million annually in facility operations and equipment upgrades.
“A lot of our attention has been focused on the company’s frozen, cooked and prepared foods processes to drive expansion of current products and development of new products,” says Ira Brill, director of communications.
For instance, Foster Farms acquired its Farmerville, La., plant in 2009 as a means to expand cooked chicken processing to East Coast markets. Foster Farms later implemented a new cook line, which includes what is said to be the nation’s largest chopped and formed lines, Brill adds.
In 2015, Foster Farms’ Porterville, Calif., facility experienced equipment upgrades such as new forming, breading and packaging equipment on current cook lines and new spiral freezers and fry equipment for prepared foods.
“These investments helped meet increased demand for cooked and prepared poultry products, achieved higher yields and efficiency, improved quality, made room for future growth and created new capabilities for Foster Farms’ innovation pipeline,” says Brill.
From a sustainability standpoint, Foster Farms’ highest-profile water conservation effort is underway at the Livingston chicken processing complex. Dubbed as one of the country’s largest poultry production plants and the city’s single largest consumer of water, initiatives include:
- Recycling efforts such as biological nutrient removal sludge press cleaning, effluent pond re-use and plant re-use designed to save 375 million gallons of water.
- Process efficiency initiatives such as new processing and metering equipment designed to save another 225 million gallons of water.
- Poultry processing wastewater being pre-treated in new on-site system, then re-used to irrigate crops, returning 60-70% of the water to the aquifer.
- LED lighting projects to reduce energy consumption.
“As a California food business based in the heart of the state’s Central Valley, Foster Farms combines responsible agricultural production with innovative practices that meet and often exceed stringent state mandates—even amid a historic, 4-year drought,” says Brill.
While Foster Farms has increased its focus on frozen cooked and prepared products, it’s also redefining fresh with a new comfort food program.
“Today’s consumers have evolved tastes and very defined preferences for products that they can feel good about feeding their families,” he adds. “Foster Farms recognizes that consumer tastes and preferences are changing, and is more committed than ever to serving its communities with locally raised, fresh, high-quality products. Company research has found that consumers are redefining the notion of comfort food. A Foster Farms survey commissioned in August found that Americans’ perception of the ‘new comfort food’ consists of local, fresh and premium quality ingredients, including no antibiotics ever and organic poultry. Our goal is to continue to provide the West Coast, and increasingly, national consumers with delicious poultry products that meet their taste, convenience and quality needs.”