Consumer feedback drives poultry producer to get certified
By Heather Thorstensen
Date Modified: 04/28/2012 9:47 PM
ST. CLOUD, Minn. —The St. Cloud-based GNP Company, formerly Gold'n Plump Poultry, is taking steps to assure the public that their food was produced with animal welfare as a top priority.
GNP is now American Humane Certified for its Just BARE brand of chicken.
The voluntary, fee-based certification program is run by the American Humane Association. It providesindependent, third-party verification that chickens raised for Just BARE are handled in a way that meet the association's welfare standards.
More than 200 standards are set for broiler production, from hatching to the end of the chickens' lives. Aspects covered on the farm level include record keeping, personnel training and the chickens' environment. The space allowance must be at least one square foot for every seven pounds of bird weight.
The company's decision to become certified was in direct response to results from a consumer panel that it put together. The panel strongly indicated they wanted a process for third-party verification of animal care.
"We want consumers to know that we are acutely aware that we owe our chickens our livelihoods. And because of this, we owe them our utmost respect and respectful, responsible care," said Julie Berling, director of brand advocacy and marketing for Just BARE. "...Ultimately, we believe a happy chicken is a healthy chicken."
When shoppers see the American Humane Certified label on Just BARE packaging, GNP Company wants them to know that those chickens were able to roam freely in climate-controlled barns, that they had ample access to nutritious feed and filtered water and that their health was monitored daily by family farmers with assistance from trained service people and a staff veterinarian, Berling said.
The Just BARE brand launched in 2008 and is expected to represent 18 percent of the GNP Company's branded sales this year.
Approximately 190 independent farms in Minnesota, plus others in Wisconsin, have contracts to raise chickens for the company. A portion of these growers produce for the Just BARE brand.
"They were very positive about (the certification program) as they know that it is good for agriculture overall and our business," said Berling.
All facilities involved in the production of Just BARE chicken will be audited from this point forward so the certification can be renewed annually.
According to the GNP Company, only minor changes were needed on farms to meet standards. No relationships with farmers had to be cut during the process.
"Everything is pretty much the same for them except the certification brings a new level of validation that what they do every day is viewed as humane by experts in the area of animal welfare," Berling said.
In addition to meeting consumer demands, GNP Company wanted to become certified to access a scientific community that updates the animal welfare standards, said Berling.
"All of the standards for the American Humane Certified program are evidence-based, reviewed and approved by our internationally-recognized animal welfare professions," said Kathi Brock, senior director of the American Humane Association's farm animal program.
The certification program currently covers approximately 135 million animals that represent 5,000 farms, according to Brock.
It's growing fast. Just a year ago, the program certified 100 million animals. By the end of this calendar year, Brock expects it to cover 225 million.
Just BARE chicken is available nationally through SuperTarget and in regional grocery store chains such as Hy-Vee. The chicken is also distributed through United Natural Foods, Inc.