Sharing leadership responsibilities and titles is unusual, especially between brothers and even more uncommon among twin brothers. And Gary knows about the pros and cons of working alongside family members.
“That’s not to say we never disagreed,” he says. “But we’d do it behind closed doors and when we came out it was with one voice. We have a strong family bond.”
Part of getting along is sharing the same vision and the Georges would agree the company has a history of making conservative decisions and is measured in its growth plans.
When the brothers were announced as co-CEOs and co-presidents in 2013, the declaration was more of a formality considering the responsibilities they inherited after Henderson retired.
The brothers set the tone early in their leadership tenure, demonstrating their plans to continue growing the company. One of the first examples came in 2011 when George’s acquired the former Tyson plant in Harrisonburg, Va., which would prove to be a valuable big-bird processing facility. With George’s already operating a small-bird plant in nearby Edinburg, “It gave us greater ability to serve customers in the Northeast with a larger bird offering,” Charles says.
More recently, an investment in the expansion of its further processing plant in Springdale, less than a half mile from the company’s headquarters, allowed for increased par-frying capacity to serve national account customers. Approximately 800 total employees work at that facility, known to most in the company as “Porter Street.” There, home-style chicken strips are cut, tumbled, battered and fried on one of three par-fry lines and then quick-frozen in one of three freezers, including one large-scale spiral unit.
When the Porter Street plant renovation was completed in early 2014, the blueprints included a test kitchen complete with commercial-grade equipment where customers can simulate the processes they utilize at their restaurant or deli. “Now we can interact with customers at a culinary level,” Carl says.
This past year the brothers also spearheaded the expansion of the Springdale processing operation (located about two miles north of the headquarters on Kansas Street) to handle big-bird processing. The renovation was designed “to allow for greater efficiencies and allow for serving more customers,” Charles says. The strategy has been to focus specific plants on dedicated operations so the success of the company isn’t over leveraged in one part of the business.
The revamped plant now employs about 980 workers on two shifts per day to slaughter and process birds with a target weight of 7 lbs. The plant has been expanded to include eight deboning lines. Currently, capacity hovers around 210,000 birds per day. Designed for growth, the additional lines allow for daily capacity of up to 268,000 birds.
The newly configured plant conveys whole birds in the second-floor processing area onto a mezzanine, where they are cut-up and sent to a leg and front-half deboning operation below. The plant produces 50 percent leg quarters and some bulk products, such as breast and wings and deboned leg meat that are shipped across town to the nearby Porter Street facility, which focuses on portion-controlled breast production, par frying, product freezing and whole-leg deboning.
The expansion of the deboning operation at the Springdale processing plant required a significant portion of the plant to be idled for approximately two weeks.
“We were able to shift production to our other facilities,” Charles says, including the Virginia deboning operation and the plant in Cassville, Mo.
An automated whole-leg deboner is a new addition to the line at the Springdale plant. The company’s leg deboning business has been a mainstay for over 18 years. Automating that process has been a significant upgrade, Charles says.
Previously the only leg deboning operation was across town at the Porter Street plant. “We were packing whole legs here and hauling them across town and re-dumping them, which meant a lot of double handling and yield loss,” Charles says. “Now it’s all done right on the line so it’s a much more efficient operation.”
George’s relies on the typical export markets for sales of the back half of the chicken. There’s still more opportunity for value-added products in the export arena, “but by and large, it’s still the back half of the bird and paws and tips,” Charles says.
Charles explains that because so much of the company’s foodservice customers’ products are size specific, the consistent carcass sizes are critical. “We’re not a commodity deboning company,” he says. “We’ve got a strong, committed foodservice customer base that buys product by the pound and sells it by the piece, so we manage live weight and carcass size consistency across our operation.”