A new chapter can be written in the playbook of the meat- and poultry-processing business — how to stay the course and drive a positive, swift-but-methodical, major expansion of business in spite of a highly publicized foodborne illness outbreak.

In the summer of 2014, as Livingston, Calif.-based poultry processor Foster Farms was wrapping up its work to further enhance its food-safety programs, Ira Brill, director of communications, told The National Provisioner (published in October 2014): “Foster Farms cannot be a leader in some areas. It has to be a leader in all areas.”

That statement could have served as an unofficial rally cry for the next 18-24 months, during which Foster Farms aimed to complete an immense transition from a regional poultry leader to a national contender. It had already developed, and in many cases implemented, significant plans to innovate, invest and expand the company’s leadership role in several areas: frozen cooked chicken, corn dogs, and organic and antibiotic-free chicken. The multifaceted battle plan expanded fresh organic and antibiotic-free product offerings in the western U.S., and frozen cooked product nationwide. Additionally, the company entered the breakfast category with new products serving consumers’ needs.

Foster Farms had begun to aim farther than it had in the past — catapulting itself eastward. Ron Foster, president and CEO, whose grandparents founded the company 77 years ago, says the approach wasn’t different, but the boundaries were.

“Our company has always looked at how to satisfy consumer needs [and] wants,” Foster explains. “It’s just taking what we’ve done with success historically and expanding the reach of it. Our intention is to grow our branded products across the United States.”

Foster Farms is now the No. 1 brand in the West across all three fresh tiers — conventional, organic and antibiotic-free; a top-selling corn dog brand; and the No. 1 frozen cooked chicken brand in the West, with national distribution steadily increasing.

The success of the company’s ambitious journey to category and industry leadership and overall excellence has earned Foster Farms the distinction of being named The National Provisioner’s 2016 Processor of the Year.

Four primary initiatives have driven Foster Farms on its journey: (1) strategic and rapid growth of product lines and national distribution, (2) massive investment of more than $120 million in product, process, operations and food-safety infrastructure at all facilities, (3) innovative initiatives in water conservation at its facilities in the face of the devastating California drought, and (4) continued sharp focus on setting the gold standard in food safety.

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