The sale of organic foods in the US is still a small percentage of the total food market, but it shows strong growth as consumers show increased awareness of high quality meats, along with ethical concerns regarding meat production. According to the Organic Trade Association, organic foods accounted for 2.5 percent of all food and drink sales nationwide, but have been growing near 20 per cent per year since 1990.
Elite Foods claims the Troy, North Carolina processing plant is the first in the US to use air-chilling methods to cool chicken after processing. This process could replace traditional chlorinated water treatments that are widespread across the nations processing plants. Air chilling eliminates water retention in poultry, which extends shelf life and enriches flavor, said the company.
The new processing plant will eviscerate, cutup and tray pack air-chilled, antibiotic-free, organic chicken and turkey. The plant uses a number of unique features that assures free-range organic poultry for the Alison's Family Farms label.
Elite has built quality assurance and traceability into its supply chain. The company works only with selected local poultry farmers within 40 miles of the processing plant. The farmers must comply with Elite Foods'standards. All poultry must be vegetable-fed, antibiotic-free and rearedwithout the use of steroids or growth hormones.
In accordance with rising consumer awareness on the handling of birds in large-scale processing plants, Alison's Family Farms products are certified humanely raised and handled by the independent non-profit agency Humane Farm Animal Care. The standards require birds get more individual space when being reared, catering to a rising demand for better animal welfare provisions by the food industry.
The plant currently employs 60 workers. Elite Foods plans to double thatnumber over the next two months as the plant gears up to process 60,000chickens and 5,000 turkeys weekly.
"This is a facility focused on the utmost in quality, not quantity," said Elite Foods president and founder, D. Bruce Cuddy. "We also designed this facility to be environmentally friendly as a low water useoperation."
Elite Foods sells is Alison's brand at Earth Fare, Green Life, Hannaford Brothers, Weaver Street Market, Reid's Grocery and Garners are joined by new additions Balducci's, Home Economist, Kash n' Karry, and Albertsons.
The primary drive for the new processing factory has been an increasing demand for Elite Foods organic poultry. Last Thanksgiving, the processor sold out of its organic turkeys long before the holiday arrived, said Cuddy.
Elite Foods primarily supplies all natural poultry products to Charlotte and East Coast markets. The company is based in Marshville, North Carolina.