Allen Harim announces closure of Cordova plant

Managing Editor

CORDOVA, Md. (March 15, 2016) — Allen Harim, last week announced it will consolidate its processing operation to one central location in Harbeson, Del., leading to the closure of its plant in Cordova, Md., in July.
The closure will impact about 300 employees at the Cordova facility, but its contract growers, about half of which are in Maryland, will not be affected, the company said.
According to Steve Evans, CEO of Allen Harim, a combination of factors contributed to the decision, including the age of the facility, a shift in the company’s product mix and a desire to improve the company’s competitive position in order to assure greater efficiency.
“A hard decision,” Evans said in a phone interview after the announcement, “but it will help this company be more competitive in the long haul.”
Evans said much of the processing at the Harbeson facility is in deboning chicken meat which is more in line with consumer demands for chicken products.
Renovations on the Harbeson plant is scheduled to be completed by July, Evans said, at which point the company has planned an expansion of the facility over 12 to 18 months.
In recent years, issues came up surrounding Allen Harmi’s processing facilies.
Plans to convert the former Vlasic pickle plant in Millsboro to process chickens were changed after lengthy protests from area residents and environmental groups, even though legal challenges were found in favor of the chicken company.
Allen Harim now plans to use the Millsboro site for storage and expand the Harbeson facility to more than double its current capacity.
“When we started having all the battles, we started looking for options as to how to grow this company,” Evans said.
He added that while the consolidation to the Harbeson facility was developed though the company’s strategic plan, the regulatory climate and recent legislative pressure on chicken companies in Maryland was not overlooked.
“The environment in Maryland is making it a bit difficult so you have to question what you do long term,” he said.
Evans said employees will be offered jobs at the company’s other locations including a hatchery, feed mill and truck shop in Seaford, Del., a hatchery in Dagsboro, Del., and its Harbeson processing facility.
“We are very grateful to our Cordova-based employees, some of whom have been with us for a very long time,” Evans said in a news release. “We will do everything possible to help them continue their employment with us, or to help them find other opportunities.”
Employees were notified of the closure on Tuesday, March 8.
Allen Harim’s human resources department will coordinate with state and local officials to leverage all available resources to assist employees.
The company plans to open an on-site career center to help employees during this transition.
Much of the processing equipment will be moved to the company’s Harbeson, Del. facility in the coming months.
After meeting with employees at the Cordova facility, Evans said they were relieved to hear exactly what the company was doing amid rumors of the plant’s closure circulated and to have several months notice to make future plans.
Evans said retaining many of the employees will be a key moving forward.
“We definitely need some of that skill set at the Harbeson facility,” he said.
The company has seen steady growth since it was purchased by the Harim Group in 2011. That year, Allen Harim employed 1,229 people.
The company currently employs more than 1,800 people in the United States, as well as more than 230 independent growers and 20 company farms across Delmarva.
“We’ve worked very hard over the past three years to take this company in a new and focused direction and to return it to a profitable operation that will continue to grow and employ people on Delmarva,” Evans added. “We are following a strategic plan that achieves our goal of a sustainable company moving forward.”
The 225-acre Cordova facility was built in 1945 by Cordova Poultry Company and purchased by the former Allen Family Foods in 1971 from Esskay. It was originally leased by Ralston-Purina under the agreement that Allen Family Foods would process the chicken and sell them under Ralston’s Checkerboard Square label.
Allen’s took over the processing entirely in 1974 and processed chicken for Holly Farms. In 1980, Allen Family Foods started selling chickens under their own label throughout the Northeast.
In the last two decades, it has processed about 600,000 chickens a week, primarily rotisserie chicken and whole bird packaging, for markets in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.
Evans said the company plans to either sell or lease the Cordova site but doesn’t anticipate anything to happen soon after its closure.
“The bigger priority here is the Harbeson expansion,” Evans said.