Until there’s a vaccine for COVID-19, Jessica Kolterman of Lincoln Premium Poultry, doesn’t see that there’s a way to relax.
Kolterman discussed how the Nebraska company established in 2016 to supply poultry for Costco has managed the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic while still hitting their production goals with AgriTalk host Chip Flory on Tuesday.
The Show Must Go On
“We were very fortunate in that we started having that conversation here in the in the facility early,” she said. “We've put in a lot of different measures.”
From temperature checks to partitions and social distancing procedures to people solely devoted to walking around the facility cleaning doorknobs, handles and any touchable surfaces, Kolterman said their goal has never been to completely keep it out because it’s just not possible.
“We’ve had attendance issues, but the goal has been to manage it and keep it workable so we can still have enough people in the building doing their job while team members that are out sick are able to recover,” she said. “And we’ve been able to do that.”
But there’s no doubt that it’s a different environment than it was at the beginning of the year.
“We've actually, and I think we're an anomaly, been able to stay at our full production goals throughout this entire process. In my mind, this is nothing short of miraculous and I credit all of our people for that,” Kolterman said.
Flory acknowledged that early recognition of the issue played a role in the company’s ability to stay at 100%. In addition to being ahead of it, Kolterman said their brand-new facility has made it easier implement social distancing.
Although it wasn’t built for “social distancing,” the company automated some of the jobs in areas where lots of people would work closely when they built the facility, according to Kolterman.
Lincoln Premium Poultry has had some infections and have had people out, but she told Flory it’s been manageable. She also credits the great relationship they have with their health district which has allowed them to communicate with a free flow of information both ways.
On the company’s worst day, 400 of about 1,000 employees in the plant, were absent. Kolterman said it was a one-day thing on a Friday and was a combination of general absenteeism, illness and fear. But some of it was due to COVID-19.
“A lot of it goes back to communication,” Kolterman said. “We had to make sure people understood how to protect themselves and all the interventions we put in to protect them. Once we got that message through, people started coming back and were here unless they were actually ill.”
Still, on that day that was the worst in terms of absenteeism, they still were able to meet their production goal, Kolterman said.
“That says a lot about our team, their commitment and just their solid work ethic,” she added.
When Meat Flew Off the Shelves
Although the company was reaching its production goals, people were buying products in droves, she said.
“People were piling it into the cart – you know that fear of not having enough meat,” she said. “And it happened for hamburger, it happened for pork, and it happened for chicken. And now we're back to what I consider more normal.”
The plant can’t make enough product to satisfy the needs of Costco stores nationwide, according to Kolterman.
“We rely on farmers in our network and there's only so many farmers in our network,” she said. “We can't create chicken that's not grown.”
They were already on schedule to ramp up production, the plant is moving to full production by the end of August, about 2 million birds a week. Right now, they are processing roughly 1.7 million.
Flory said Lincoln Premium Poultry is a great example of how to deal with a crisis.
“You just have to stay calm, trust your people and know that they're going to do the thing they do with that good Nebraska work ethic,” Kolterman said.
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