The ability to turn on a
dime has been instrumental in the rapid growth of Royal Harvest
Foods. By catering to customers of all types and sizes and giving
each one a customized product, the firm has grown about 15 to 20% a
year - enough to warrant first establishing and now expanding a
second processing facility in Marion, Alabama.
The bulk of its business consists of creating private label and
Royal Harvest brand products for distributors to market to HRI
accounts. President Jim Vallides remarks, "Instead of our sales
manager, Frank McNamara, going to a potential customer and saying,
'this is what we have to sell' - we'll have them tell us what they
want, and will make them a signature product."
In some instances, the firm works directly
with chain accounts. The chain then specs out the products to a
distributor or to its own distribution system.
Royal Harvest also does work for other chicken processors, which
does not usually involve creating finished products. Vallides
explains, "We debone for them if they're short on labor or space in
their plant. They give us the fronts and we give them back boneless
meat, tenders and wings. Or they may have a new product they want to
test market, and they can run it on our lines rather than tying up
their own equipment with a small volume job."
Another sizable portion of the company's production is for
industrial customers who want a certain cut or size that they will
process further still. Says Vallides, "Those are the types of
situations we like to get into- things that a larger processor may
not want to or be able to do."
Harvest's 40,000 square foot Springfield plant runs two lines,
neither of which is dedicated. All the equipment is on casters to
configure the lines as needed for whatever products will be running
on a given day. Product can be fully cooked or blanched, natural,
battered and breaded or unbreaded. Royal Harvest has no
off-the-shelf-type products, Vallides points out, when someone
brings us a product idea, "We have the ambition to get in there and
try to do it, to work with their R&D people to see if it's
technically feasible and fits into their cost
Its versatility and narrow focus
have kept Royal Harvest on a path of continual growth. The firm
shrugged off a pair of too-small processing plants in Suffield
before settling into its current home in Springfield in March, 1985.
It still has laboratory facilities and a sales office in Suffield.
In January 1987, Royal Harvest grabbed a
toehold in the Sunbelt and got closer to its suppliers (Marshall
Durbin, Goldenrod Poultry, Peco Foods) by acquiring a former catfish
processing plant in Marion, AL. The facility is only 15,000 square
feet, but an expansion is under way to double that. "The plant in
Marion is undersized for what we wanted to do," says Vallides, "but
we thought we'd start conservatively and expand if it worked out as
chose Marion after an extensive search, prompted by a tightening of
raw material supply and rising transportation costs, Vallides notes.
Management plotted out the locations of all the independent poultry
processors ("the people we could count on buying from on a regular
basis," he says) and worked with state development boards in South
Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama to find a plant for sale.
Initially, the plan was to debone front
halves and send all the production to Springfield for further
processing. "Before we had the plant in Marion and I was pulling my
raw material from the South, it was all bone-in," says Vallides.
"I've cut my freight costs by at least 50% by doing the deboning in
Alabama and shipping up the parts I need."
addition, the Sunbelt connection has expanded Royal Harvest's
horizons. Vallides notes that the firm is selling an ever-increasing
amount of products like portion control chicken breasts, cutlets,
specialty items, and fastfood-sized portions from the Marion plant
throughout the South and will continue to further develop that
Jim's Father, Micheal, moved to Marion
when the new plant began operations. At age 70, he's a perfect
example of how people in the poultry business never really retire,
says Jim. "He didn't have to move down there and he doesn't have to
go into the plant every day. I have an excellent plant manager
there, but my father is there anyway because he wants to be
involved. It is nice to have a family member
Staffing the Marion plant was no
problem, says Vallides. In fact, he remarks, "There is a more
readily available labor force there than in Springfield, and the
people there welcomed the jobs we provided." The Alabama facility
has a cone deboning line, whereas deboning is done by hand in
Springfield. The biggest challenge is getting people used to holding
a knife, he observes.
that although he wants to see Royal Harvest's growth continue, he'd
rather be conservative and correct than liberal and in limbo. "We
want to make sure we take the right steps," he says, "because paper
and reality can be two different things."