Plant Tour: A first look at North Country Smokehouse’s new facility

by Bob Sims
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New Hampshire
North Country's COO Aaron Corbett showed MEAT+POULTRY how the new plant utilizes the latest technology in equipment, design and food safety while increasing production capacity significantly.
 
A new plant with technology-rich equipment and a plan to focus on organic, all natural, certified humane and global animal partnership (GAP) compliance is behind the strategy of Claremont, New Hampshire-based North Country Smokehouse looking to the future. After the acquisition of North Country by Canadian packer duBreton two years ago, the sky’s the limit for the processor’s new facility nestled in a historic business park in the shadow of Mt. Ascutney just across the Vermont state line.

 

The 65,000-sq.-ft. facility will allow North Country the room it needed to start saying ‘yes’ to partnerships rather than ‘we can’t because we don’t have the capacity.’ “It hurts to say no when people are wanting to buy your product and you don’t have the product for them,” says Mike Satzow, founder and executive vice president of sales and marketing at North Country.

In with the new

CMC Design-Build helped with the design and acted as general contractor throughout the 15-month process of construction from breaking of ground to completion. North Country Chief Operating Officer Aaron Corbett says it was a complete “greenfield” project. The new plant was built from the ground up after stepping back, taking a pause and making decisions based on getting it right the first time.

“It probably took us a year-and-a-half to design before we even broke ground,” Corbett says.

“Actually, it took 50 years to design,” Satzow laughs, referring to his desire to build a new facility from the ground up for many years.

“It’s the goal of anybody who owns a meat company to be in a position where they can build a brand-new building and work space, etc., exactly where they want,” he adds.

Equipment plays a major role in the overall plan of the facility. Not just new machines to replace those that have worn out at the old facility, but top-line machines that are sometimes the first of their kind in the US. The new ham line wears serial number 1 or 2 in the US according to Corbett. North Country likes the flexibility the machine provides. North Country utilizes large vacuum tumblers to create high quality hams comparable to the highest quality hams in Europe.

Another feature of the new North Country facility is three new chillers to match its three new smokehouses. The machines are the basis of the plant’s two lanes handling raw materials coming in to finished product going out. The left lane handles bacon exclusively with the right lane covering everything else.

As with any food producer, North Country had food safety front of mind when designing, building and equipping the new plant.

“We spent quite a bit of extra money on air drying systems that essentially guarantee that in all the different rooms where we have exposed meat products there will be zero condensation at any given time,” Corbett says. “And that’s been true. Since we’ve started we have zero condensation issues in those rooms.”

Corbett says the ability to produce high quality, healthy, safe products is the biggest upgrade they’ve made beyond the increased capacity. But there were, and still are some kinks to work out.

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