Poultry producer Sovereign Foods, formally known as Rocklands Poultry, has made a multimillion-rand invest- ment in its processing plant and support services, creating the capacity to process up to 60-million birds a year, almost doubling the number of jobs sustained by its Uitenhage factory and surrounding farms.
The investment of nearly R700-million over the past three years in the processing plant, farms and the hatchery has seen the installation of one of the fastest processing lines in the world, Sovereign Foods CEO Mike Davis says. The equipment was supplied by German company Stork Food Systems, and can process up to 12 000 birds an hour.
Whole chickens are frozen through air chilling in what Sovereign Foods says will be the third-largest refrigeration plant in Southern Africa, while chicken portions are frozen in three 6-t spiral freezers, which are also some of the biggest in the world.
In total, the facility can process about 8 000 t of chicken a month, with the capacity designed to process up to 12 000 t a month.
“The downturn in the economy has seen a rise in demand for chicken,” Davis says. “Production at the plant has been increasing steadily, doubling the number of employees in an area that has been particularly hard-hit by the slowdown in the motor industry.”
The company’s new R61-million hatchery is currently producing 680 000 day-old chicks a week and is designed to ramp up to about two-million chicks a week. The eggs take about 21 days to hatch, which means that the hatchery will have six-million eggs under incubation at any one time.
The Petersime hatchery system controls humidity and maintains a constant temperature in the hatchery.
Chicks are sent to farms owned by Sovereign Foods, as well as a number of farms established through broad-based black economic-empowerment (BBBEE) ventures.
All 13 broiler and 11 egg-producing farms are on line through a wireless network, which is monitored centrally.
Feed is also prepared and distributed from a dedicated plant, which is capable of producing 20 000 t of feed a month.
Sovereign Foods COO Blaine van Rensburg says that there are opportunities for further BBBEE ventures for farms and suppliers of maize, soya beans, and associated by- products from wheat-milling and oil-seed crushing.
“We have investigated local commercial farming with the assistance of the Department of Agriculture over the past 36 months in the Ugie, Elliot, Cradock, Qamata and Ncora areas to try to stimulate maize and soya bean production for our use,” he says. “The projects are still in their early stages and will see the revitalisation of dormant irrigation schemes.”
Currently, Sovereign Foods spends around R40-million a month on raw food materials, only 5% of which is from the Eastern Cape.
Retail brands produced by the entity include Country Range, Farmer’s Lane, Cater Chicken, Chicken Barn and Rocklands.
The company launched its new Hope Alive initiative at the end of October, for which it will pay its staff for time spent on the social responsibility project.
This is in addition to the company’s cur- rent donation of more than 2 t of chicken a month to soup kitchens in the region, as well as other donations valued at nearly R1-million a year.
“Through our work with community organisations, we have come to realise that we can do more than provide donations and funding, and that our staff themselves are keen to get involved,” says Sovereign Foods communications manager Susan Lascelles.
“We are acquiring a special bus for the Hope Alive initiative, which will take staff to help out with projects, such as the painting of a school, the digging of a food garden or the mending of fences and windows. “The work will be done on company time, which means that they will be getting paid,” she says.
A substantial number of the staff working for the Sovereign Foods poultry process- ing plant, the company’s broiler farms, its hatcheries, the feed plant, egg-producing farms and support staff are included in the project.
Lascelles says the initiative aims to ensure that staff members visit each of the five pro- jects to offer assistance and to sensitise staff to the plight of the underprivileged.