Back in 2011, Allen Family Foods went through bankruptcy and was purchased by the Harim Group, based in South Korea. In 2014, the firm rebranded as Allen Harim Foods. In 2016, Joe Moran became CEO. And this year, the nearly 100-year-old poultry producer is making more moves.
“We’re in a growth mode right now,” Moran says. “We’re going to build a new $22 million hatchery in Dagsboro.” That state-of-the-art facility opens in November. In 2016, the company closed an aging processing facility in Maryland, consolidating operations at its Harbeson plant, which was more modern and had room for growth.
And there’s yet more good news for Delaware: Allen Harim plans to move its corporate headquarters to an old Vlasic pickle plant in Millsboro it purchased in 2014. Along with the offices, the massive, 460,000-square-foot facility will house a processing operation, which will relocate about 165 jobs from Georgia to Delaware.
“For the last 100 years, the company has been headquartered in Seaford, and for hopefully the next 100 we’re going to be headquartered in Millsboro,” says Cathy Bassett, director of public relations.
Another big change at Allen Harim in recent years has been a shift from commodity-based sales — essentially chicken in a box, sold to other processers — to more retail sales. Before the Harim acquisition, Moran explains, the company did just 6 to 8 percent of its business in retail, known in the industry as “tray pack” chicken. Now, that number is up around 25 percent, and the company’s biggest customers come with impressive bona fides. They include Whole Foods, along with Shaw’s and Market Basket in New England and Lidl, a German-based boutique grocer with plans for major expansion here in the U.S. (Lidl already has a location in Middletown.)
“We have some excellent customers, like Whole Foods and others, that are requiring more of producers, and we’ve stepped up and are meeting that challenge,” Bassett says. “In 2015, we were among the first companies to go no antibiotic ever on our chicken. I think that reflects a trend and a change in the marketplace, and we were on the cutting edge of that, and you’re seeing other companies follow suit.”
Allen Harim and its 230 independent growers (half are in Delaware, half are in Maryland), its breeding facility in North Carolina, and its hatchery and processing plant here in Delaware are certified by the Global Animal Partnership; they are all-vegetable fed; they are process-verified by the USDA; and they have Halal-certified products. Some of those certifications mean the company opens itself up to regular visits from independent auditors.
Moran says getting good marks on the audits comes down to training and continuous improvement. “We don’t wait until a week before the audit comes,” Moran notes. “It’s being driven every day to do the right things and follow the policies and procedures that we have in place. And I’m out and about quite a bit — and we just reiterate and reinforce that this is what we’re about.”