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Pure Prairie Farms offers information, answers questions at Charles City town meeting

Pure Prairie Farms offers information, answers questions at Charles City town meeting
Brian Roelofs, president and CEO of Pure Prairie Farms in Charles City, standing in center, jokes with the audience at a town hall meeting the company held last week to provide information to the community and provide an opportunity for people to ask questions. Press photo by Bob Steenson
Pure Prairie Farms offers information, answers questions at Charles City town meeting
Pure Prairie Farms President and CEO Brian Roelofs talks about the new company at a town hall meeting held last week at the Floyd County fairgrounds. Press photo by Bob Steenson
Pure Prairie Farms offers information, answers questions at Charles City town meeting
Charles City Mayor Dean Andrews, right, introduces Pure Prairie Farms President and CEO Brian Roelofs, last week at a town hall meeting the company held at the fairgrounds. Andrews said he and others had met with some of the company’s leaders and were very impressed with their business plan. “But even more importantly, they’ve impressed us as being really good corporate citizens. That’s why they’re having this meeting tonight so that people can come and say, ‘What’s this all about?’ or ‘How are you going to do this?’ and ‘Here’s the problem I had with the past company, how are you going to deal with that?’” Press photo by Bob Steenson

 

Pure Prairie Farms offers information, answers questions at Charles City town meeting
Tom Poppens, of Pop’s Poultry Farm LLC of Aplington, talks about the importance of the chicken growers being part of the ownership of the Pure Prairie Farms company, at a town hall meeting the company held at the Floyd County Fairgrounds last week. Press photo by Bob Steenson
By Bob Steenson, [email protected]

The president and CEO of Pure Prairie Farms gave an enthusiastic and optimistic overview of the plans for the Charles City chicken processing plant it plans to reopen this summer, to a group of people who have seen several previous companies come and go.

“I’m a pessimistic soul,” one audience member said before asking a question.

The town hall meeting last week was presented by Pure Prairie Farms as an opportunity for the community to hear about the company’s plans and ask questions, as well as for members of the Pure Prairie executive team to learn a little about the people in what is now their community.

Brian Roelofs, the president and CEO, said after the meeting that the questions covered the areas they had expected.

“The three questions we get (most) are, ‘When are you going to start?’ ‘How much are you going to pay?’ “What are you going to do different from other people?’” he said.

The answer to the first was that the company plans to begin production this summer at about a half shift with 50 people. The business plan is to be up to full production, running two shifts with about 250 people, by late next year. The company had hoped to start this spring, but some supply line delays have pushed that back a little.

As far as what the company is going to pay for factory workers, Roelofs said they would start talking about pay rates and benefits packages at job fairs that would begin “over the next few months,” first locally, then spreading wider as needed.

Roelofs spent most of his presentation talking about what the company would do differently to be a success. He went through several slides projected onto two large screens at the Youth Enrichment Center at the Floyd County Fairgrounds, that showed some of the principles the company would work under.

“One thing I can guarantee is that we will have significantly more horsepower in the sales and marketing component than either of the previous two owners,” Roelofs  said.

Tom Poppens, an Aplington chicken grower for Pure Prairie Farms who was also a grower for the former plant owner, Simply Essentials, said one of the key differences with Pure Prairie Farms is that the growers own part of this business.

“This is an unusual ownership structure in the poultry industry, and has created a unique environment of mutual cooperation and support from all parties involved,” said Poppens, who was one of the growers who had petitioned to force Simply Essentials into bankruptcy proceedings after the company closed the plant in the summer of 2019.

“Having both the roll of grower and owner motivates us to do what’s best for the company,” Poppens said. “We understand that decisions that benefit only one party are not in the best interest of the company in the long run. For us to be successful as growers of Pure Prairie Farms, first and foremost Pure Prairie Farms must be successful.”

Roelofs said the company also knows it needs to have a good relationship with and be an active part of the community.

“Part of that ends up up being open, honest, transparent communication, and that’s our lead value. So what that means is that we need to be courageous in our communications with you, during good times and in bad, and we want you to do the same for us,” he said.

Roelofs said there is a focus on people, planet, poultry and prosperity:

  • “The people component of that means that we work diligently with the people and that we value the role that every one of those people plays. … None of us can be successful unless all of those people are successful in their role. We also value the kind of diversity that will be in our plant and we really celebrate the excellence of our people,” he said.
  • “On the planet side, we know we need to do today what it takes to preserve resources for tomorrow. So we’re committed to conserving all of the water, energy and use as little as possible and produce as little waste as we need to,” he said.
  • Poultry involves both the way the company makes its products and the way it treats the chickens. “Our animal welfare program has to be among the best in the industry if we want to be a first class company, and those are the animals that live their lives so that we can eat them, right?”
  • Prosperity means financial success for the company as well as everyone involved in it, he said. “We provide a return for those who invest in us. We’re very clear that a financial return is really critical for us to be in business long term and continue to have that relationship with the growers.”

The questions asked during the meeting and the answers included:

How are you going to get your employees?

“The first thing that we need to do is to make sure that we have a great place to work, that the culture and the operation is safe and that we produce good products and we pay well. We need within the market range, if not slightly better as a start-up company, which means benefits,” Roelofs said. “One of the things we are committed to is to make sure bonuses are there as well with employees.”

What about odors and noise?

Roelofs said he couldn’t guarantee there wouldn’t occasionally be an odor on a hot day, but they planned to truck away byproducts and offal products daily. Processed chickens would be stored in a new distribution center the company will add on to the front of the plant, and chicken will not be stored in dozens of refrigerated trucks left continually running loudly, parked around the plant, as had happened before.

What will the shed in the gravel area be used for?

It’s a live shed, where chickens will be kept for a short time after they arrive by truck until they are taken to the rear of the plant where they will be slaughtered. It will not be used to store waste products, Roelofs said.

Do you have customers to buy your chicken?

Roelofs said they have a couple of letters of intent, and Brad Vokac, vice president of sales and marketing, is meeting weekly with companies “like Whole Foods, Kroger, Meijer, Hy-Vee, Schnucks, those kind of folks.” Chicken has a very high turn rate in grocery stores, so the stores can afford the shelf space for several brands, he said. “There’s ample customers that will move that product.”

Do you have enough growers lined up?

The company has almost enough growers now to operate a full first shift, but needs a few more. It takes about 72 to 75 barns to operate a shift, so it will need that many more to operate a second shift, Roelofs said. “It’s really important that you’re able to run this plant as two shifts, because the fixed costs that you need to cover in a poultry operation require that you maximize every minute of that plant operation.”

How much water will you use?

Water will need to be used for sanitation like in any poultry plant, but this plant air-chills the chicken, rather than running it through huge water baths that have to be changed frequently. It also uses a vacuum system to carry off byproducts during processing rather than using a water slurry.

What about feathers and other byproducts?

The feathers go into a truck and are hauled away every day, Roelofs said. Companies are lined up to take blood and viscera as well.

Will there be a lot of trucks going down Main Street?

Mayor Dean Andrews said at the meeting that the intent is for the trucks to come in on 13th Street to North Grand Avenue to the plant, then back out the same way, “So there shouldn’t be a lot of traffic in town.”

Who owns the company?

Pure Prairie Farms is owned by a combination of growers, employees and investors. There are 80 or 90 shareholders, including some who hold significant amounts, but no one owns more than 10% of the company, Roelofs said.

What quality chicken will you produce?

Roelofs said processed chicken quality is thought of in terms of good, better, best and organic. “We’ll be best and organic. In order to run a small operation like this you really need to have those unique attributes and unique packaging and really high trim specs to make a really high-valued product,” he said.

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