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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Ron FosterThee UC Davis Foundation has recognized Ron Foster with the prestigious 2017 Charles J. Soderquist Award. The annual award is presented to individuals who demonstrate excellence in philanthropy, volunteerism and leadership, and an overall commitment to UC Davis.

Foster is an owner and board member of Livingston, Calif.-based Foster Farms, where he served as president and chief executive officer for more than 12 years. He has been a strong champion for the university, particularly in the Central Valley of California and in the poultry industry.

“As a volunteer and philanthropist, Ron has been instrumental in helping UC Davis and the School of Veterinary Medicine grow an engaged and committed group of volunteers and donors,” said Bruce Bell, chair of the UC Davis Foundation. “We are very pleased to recognize him as this year’s recipient of the Charles J. Soderquist Award.”

The UC Davis Foundation is a nonprofit organization that enhances the excellence of UC Davis by highlighting the impacts of philanthropy and stewarding private donations to the university. The Foundation’s Board of Trustees created the Soderquist Award in 2005 in honor of UC Davis alumnus, entrepreneur and philanthropist Charles Soderquist. It awards the recipients $5,000, which they donate to a university program or field of their choice. Foster has decided to give his prize money to the School of Veterinary Medicine’s poultry medicine program, which provides students with access to hands-on learning opportunities at California poultry farms, including Foster Farms.

A committed supporter

Foster previously received the School of Veterinary Medicine’s Distinguished Service Award for his support as an advisor, fundraiser, philanthropist, grateful client and corporate partner. He has served as a charter member of the School of Veterinary Medicine’s Dean’s Leadership Council for nearly 20 years and is currently the co-chair of the council.

“Ron Foster is an accomplished leader who has an immense commitment to the mission of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and is an outstanding choice to be the next recipient of the Charles J. Soderquist Award,” wrote Michael Lairmore, dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine, in his nomination letter.

He previously chaired the School of Veterinary Medicine’s campaign to raise funds for a new dairy teaching facility in Tulare, California, which resulted in the Consumer Education Pavilion. He also continues to promote efforts to re-energize the school’s poultry expertise and research investigations through Foster Farms’ leadership in the California Poultry Federation.

Foster is currently leading the initiative to support a $1 million fundraising project for the Arthur A. Bickford Endowed Avian Residency Program, to which Foster Farms provided the initial lead gift. He also provided gifts to the School’s Veterinary Medicine 3B facility and an endowed veterinary student scholarship in honor of his grandparents, Max and Verda Foster, who founded Foster Farms in 1939. He frequently attends the school’s scholarship awards ceremony to personally present scholarships to the student recipients.

“I am proud to be a donor and volunteer at UC Davis, where brilliant minds are working to solve the world’s greatest challenges, including those facing farms and society overall,” Foster said. “The excellence of this university makes me all the more thrilled to be honored with this award.”

Thanks to Turlock High School student Felisha Dias and her singing talent, the United Samaritans Foundation on Thursday morning received 2,700 pounds of Foster Farms chicken to help serve the community’s less fortunate. Sixteen-year-old Dias was selected as the winner of the Foster Farms Bowl “Oh Say, Can You Sing?” contest earlier this month, where she beat out 10 other finalists from the Bay Area and Central Valley. As champion, she was awarded the opportunity to sing the national anthem in front of 70,000 football fans before Wednesday night’s bowl game at Levi’s Stadium.

Watch the Felisha Dias video.

Laura FlanaganLIVINGSTON, Calif. – Foster Farms, the West Coast’s leading poultry producer, today announced that its board of directors has appointed Laura Flanagan president and chief executive officer effective August 29, 2016.

Flanagan, 48, most recently served as president of the ConAgra Foods Snacks Division, one of North America’s leading suppliers of packaged foods. She will succeed Ron Foster, grandson of company founders Max and Verda Foster, as Foster Farms’ president and CEO. Foster previously announced his plans to step down. He will remain a Foster Farms owner and member of the board of directors.

“The board unanimously selected Laura Flanagan as the ideal executive to guide Foster Farms during a time of significant growth,” said Foster. “She has an impressive record of transforming and growing household consumer brands across an ever-shifting landscape. We are confident that her strategic approach will lead Foster Farms to new heights within the U.S. meat and poultry industry.”

Before taking leadership of the Snacks Division, Flanagan served as president of ConAgra’s Convenient Meals Division from 2008 to 2011, revitalizing and expanding key brands. She also led initiatives to promote diversity, develop internal talent, and build skills and capabilities throughout ConAgra.

“Foster Farms is a strong competitor in the national poultry landscape in large part because of its family-owned roots and its steadfast commitment to truly locally grown, fresh poultry,” said Flanagan. “I intend to honor the Foster family’s legacy for excellence while growing the business, guiding our dedicated employees and maintaining the trust of a new generation of consumers who care deeply about the food they feed their families, especially organic and antibiotic-free poultry choices.”

Before joining ConAgra, Flanagan served as vice president and chief marketing officer of Tropicana Shelf Stable Juices at PepsiCo and, from 1996 to 2005, held brand-management positions at General Mills and PepsiCo. Earlier, she was a manufacturing engineer at Saturn Corporation. She earned an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1996.

Flanagan currently serves on the board of directors at Core-Mark International, one of North America’s largest marketers of fresh and broad-line supply solutions to the convenience retail industry.

Under Ron Foster’s leadership, the company grew by 70 percent and became the nation’s first major poultry producer to be certified by the American Humane Association. In June, Foster Farms was selected as the 2016 Processor of the Year by The National Provisioner for industry-leading achievements in food safety, water conservation and product diversity. While Ron Foster led the company, it raised the National Thanksgiving Turkey for the White House on two occasions, became the No. 1 brand of frozen cooked chicken in the western U.S., and became the largest producer of organic and antibiotic-free fresh chicken on the West Coast.

About Foster Farms

California-based Foster Farms employs more than 12,000 with facilities throughout California, Oregon and Washington as well as Farmerville, Louisiana, and Demopolis, Alabama. Since 1939, West Coast families have depended on Foster Farms for premium-quality chicken and turkey products. Family-owned and operated, the company continues its legacy of excellence and commitment to quality established by its founders, Max and Verda Foster. Foster Farms specializes in fresh, all-natural chicken and turkey products free of preservatives, additives or injected sodium enhancers. Based in California’s Central Valley, with ranches in the Pacific Northwest, the company’s fresh chicken and turkey are produced in or near each region served. Foster Farms also produces delicious pre-marinated, ready-to-cook and fully cooked products that meet the quality and convenience needs of today’s home cooks, retailers, warehouse clubs and foodservice customers. The company’s commitment to excellence, honesty, quality, service and people is a source of great pride and a longtime family tradition. Visit www.fosterfarms.com to learn more.