Pure Prairie Poultry celebrates groundbreaking on major expansion project in Charles City
On hand for a groundbreaking Thursday morning for a Pure Prairie Poultry expansion project are, (from left) Pure Prairie Poultry Board Chairman Mike Helgeson; Tom Poppens of Tri-State Growers; PPP Chief Financial Officer George Peichel; President and CEO Brian Roelofs; Anita Janssen, Pure Prairie Poultry vice president of strategic initiatives; Brian Tenge from Henkel Construction; and Bob Wolfe, Pure Prairie Poultry chief operating officer. Press photo by Bob Steenson
By Bob Steenson, [email protected]
Pure Prairie Poultry ceremoniously broke ground Thursday on an expansion project that company officials say is key to ramping up to full production and being successful.
Representatives of the chicken processing company, as well as Henkel Construction, Charles City officials, Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors and other invited guests, gathered on a rainy morning to celebrate the next step in the company’s evolution since it purchased and took over what had been Simply Essentials on the city’s North Main Street.
“This is a big milestone not only for us, but for the community of Charles City,” said PPP President and CEO Brian Roelofs at the event. “This property has a storied history and we’re thrilled to be a part of making it into something special. … This is an opportunity for us to improve this.”
Roelofs noted that the newly formed company – originally named Pure Prairie Farms – had purchased the Simply Essentials assets out of bankruptcy proceedings in late 2021.
“We realized it had some shortcomings to do what we needed to do, so we worked diligently as a team over the last couple of years, really, getting our funding in place, and getting to the point where we’re going to have this groundbreaking today,” he said.
Part of the expansion will be an 18,000-square-foot distribution center and warehouse added to the south part of the front of the plant, with four loading docks, he said.
But another important part of the project will be to address what he said were shortcomings on facilities provided for employees.
“We realized it has inadequate employee welfare and locker rooms and those kind of things, so we’re going to renovate the downstairs into locker rooms and some office space upstairs, but most importantly (will be) that break room with sunlight for all of our team members,” he said. “It will be a great place. We really want to be an employer of choice in Charles City and the regional area, so we want to make sure that those facilities are top notch and really best in class in the area.”
After the groundbreaking ceremony, Roelofs talked with the Press about the construction schedule and how thing have been going since the company started limited production last fall.
First, regarding the name change, from Pure Prairie Farms to Pure Prairie Poultry, Roelofs said it had been made about a month ago, for a couple of reasons.
“One is there is another company called Prairie Farms, and also, as we started to develop our brand, we really wanted to be more clearly associated with poultry from a brand standpoint. Instead of leaving the company name as ‘Farms’ and our brand as Pure Prairie Poultry, we just switched the name since we’re not very far into the process,” he said.
Roelofs said work should start on the expansion project yet this month. Henkel Construction will probably begin behind the plant first, where they are building a maintenance shop, then start the work out front.
“And then after that it will take about six or seven months to get the distribution center up and the renovations inside, so really by late fall we’ll be in the distribution center,” he said.
The expansion will come out to the curb on what was formerly part of North Main Street, until the company began leasing the area from the city for the expansion and the city routed traffic around the plant to North Grand Avenue.
“We’ll be coming out to just the curb, so kind of behind the sidewalk,” Roelofs said. “There’s infrastructure from the city that has an easement underneath the street, so we can’t touch the street.”
He said the plant is currently running at about a third of a full shift.
“By May we’re going to be at over a half shift, almost two-thirds of a shift, and we’ll continue to grow from there so it will be a full shift by the end of the year. We really can’t get to a full shift until we get these four dock doors enabled. We’re using one dock door for the time being, so we’ve got to get the product out of the building,” he said. “Once we get these four dock doors built and the distribution center we’ll be able to get to a full shift.”
He said the timeline to a full shift also has to do with the availability of eggs and chicks.
“There has been a constrained supply of eggs in the broiler industry over the last couple of years. We contracted with a breeding company last year. Those breeding birds that lay eggs need to be about 30 weeks old before they produce eggs, so there’s a lag in timeline before we get the number of birds we needed,” he said.
“And then we also need to make sure we get our construction done. We’re not only adding the distribution center and office space and break rooms and locker rooms, we’re renovating what we call our second processing area to meet our business needs,” he said.
“Most poultry plants in first processing do the same thing. They produce a bird like you would buy in the grocery store that’s cleaned and cooled. But after that you cut it up and put it into packaging and that’s very specialized by company, so we’re renovating that area to meet our needs, and that will be done in roughly August-September as well,” Roeloffs said.
He said some of the things that have been having an impact on the poultry business and egg business haven’t had a big effect on chicken processing.
Roelofs said they’ve been very fortunate that although there have been cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) that have impacted flocks, it has typically been in layer flocks or turkeys. Although a current strain of HPAI can impact younger birds, it usually targets birds older than broilers.
Asked whether the price of eggs has affected his business as it has consumers, Roelofs said not really.
“Those are very different breeds, very different processes,” he said. “You don’t sell broiler eggs into the egg market and you don’t use laying eggs to produce broiler chickens, so it’s very different. High-path avian influenza has produced some of that shortage on the egg-laying side, because there have been several very large flocks that have been impacted over a year ago. … That’s what’s really impacting that, and it doesn’t effect the broiling industry.”