Miller's certifications include BRC at the plant and GAP on the live side and plant.
Nuts and Bolts
The approximately 140,000-sq.-ft. processing facility employs about 700 people to run two production shifts and one sanitation shift. Miller Poultry produces antibiotic-free (ABF), non-GMO and organic birds, and despite being a smaller player in the industry, the company has found ways to compete and stay in the game with its niche products. This, and the close, customer service-oriented relationships cultivated and nurtured over the years have guided the company into its comfortable place in the market today.
“Obviously, we can never compete on cost, so we have to offer something different,” Miller says. “The only thing that’s left really is either a different way to grow the poultry, different way to process it, better quality or better service, so that’s what we’ve resorted to, a different way to grow.” He goes on to say, “For a lot of that, we were pulled along by our customers. Some of those customers were at the forefront of ABF, at the forefront of third-party certifications, at the forefront of organic, now at the forefront of non-GMO, they also support an air chill, which we installed in 2007.”
Miller’s certifications include British Retail Consortium (BRC) at the plant and Global Animal Partnership (GAP) on the live side and plant. “Then underneath all those would be the non-GMO, which is the type of feed and the organic, which is the type of feed and the growing conditions,” Miller says.
Currently, two-thirds of Miller’s production is air chilled and the other one-third is water chilled. Brands include Miller, Pine Manor (exclusively produced for Whole Foods), Katie’s Best and Crystal Valley and includes 70 to 80 unique items totaling between 450 and 500 SKUs.
“We do boneless skinless thighs, boneless skinless breasts, wings, drums, split fryers, split breasts, bone-in,” Miller says. “We do the complete range of bone-in and then we do dark and white boneless items.” After that stage in the process, Miller explains, products are packaged in bulk, small, medium or large packages.
Once birds run through evisceration and either the water chill or the 1.25 miles of air chill line, they get sorted and sent to a specific processing line depending on variables decided by software. Miller uses a British program called ChickSort.
Roger Stearns, plant manager, explains that ChickSort takes a photograph of the front and back of every bird that goes through the line and sends that information to the computer. It identifies the shackle number and assigns the photos and weight of each chicken accordingly. Plant management programs the software with the desired parameters for sorting. The software grades each bird relative to those parameters and the computer sends the bird to the proper processing line; whole bird, bone in, boneless, etc.
The company uses Ossid machines to tray pack wings, thighs, drumsticks, breasts and cut up whole birds. The plant also features Multivac packaging systems for boneless breast, thigh and occasional drumsticks.
The pricing room at Miller Poultry consists of 14 scales with a database of all customer pricing used. This way the company can weigh and price products for its customers who upon receipt can simply unpack and place into the case. The room was built in February of 2016 to keep up with the plant’s steady growth.
For shipping product out, Miller uses a state-of-the-art loading dock. The dock is equipped with a lighting system so forklift operators loading the trucks and truck drivers remain safe. Trucks actually connect to the dock, changing the light to green. If a truck is not connected, the light is red so forklift operators know not to enter the trailer. Light signals operate on both the inside and outside of the dock visible to all involved.
“Everything is with an employee safety and food safety mindset when we design things,” Stearns says.