Tyson Foods, Vienna Georgia
Construction of Tyson Foods poultry tray-pack plant in Vienna, Ga. was a massive undertaking in a very short amount of time.

VIENNA, Ga. – In January, 2015, Tyson Foods broke ground on one of the company’s largest construction projects in its history, flipping its fresh poultry plant in Vienna to a tray-pack plant in a matter of about six months. MEAT+POULTRY was honored to be the first industry publication to be given access to the renovated plant, which added 100,000 sq. ft. to accommodate an expanded evisceration operation, a sophisticated labeling and packaging area and doubling the refrigeration space. The project is the subject of M+P’s cover story in its April issue.

Bill Ricken, vice president of operations, says the decision to convert Vienna was carefully considered, but once the commitment was made, a flurry of activity ensued. Ground was broken in January 2015 and the first chicken was killed on June 1 at the revamped plant. Ricken calls it a “very fast-track project,” that was unprecedented for Tyson in terms of size and scope.


Bill Ricken, Tyson Foods
Bill Ricken, vice president of operations, Tyson Foods

“The conversion required armies of engineers, vendors, electricians and millwrights,” Ricken said. “We shut down the entire plant for one month, gutted it, added 100,000 sq. ft. and put it back together.”

During that month, when the plant was closed, Steve Wilson, complex manager, and his management team were simultaneously building a new staff, doubling the number of current workers. Recruiting and hiring 700 new team members in a short period of time was almost as formidable as the construction project.

“Within eight weeks we had our 700 people,” he says, drawing workers from three surrounding counties to fill positions for two shifts per day, five days per week.

Wilson points out that for the first three months of the project, the plant remained open for business. But at the end of March, the facility had to be shut down and then the clock was running a race to get it back on line. He adds that as part of the shutdown, the 700 workers already employed at the plant at the time were retained and paid full wages.

Orchestrating Matters 

Choreographing the massive transformation was daunting. Ricken said operating in such a tight window meant moving swiftly.

“We had to make some snap decisions,” he said. “We started digging dirt in January and we were running second processing in May.”

And by June 1, the plant was slaughtering and processing, albeit not at full capacity. After shutting down operations completely, the plant was partly reopened only for second processing. “We actually processed birds at Buena Vista and brought the WOGs (birds without giblets) over here and ran those through second processing, very slowly to get everybody ramped in through the month of May,” Ricken explained.

And when considering lead time on equipment and doubling the size of refrigeration and then scheduling the litany of vendors to install all of the new equipment, Ricken categorized the project as a massive undertaking in a very short amount of time, which he says was nothing short of a “raging success.”

“I’m not sure it’s ever been done before,” Ricken said.

Look for more details of the project in M+P’s April issue, available online and in print next month.