Chicken run back on schedule

Country Ribbon loses a day of production during power outage

Bonnie Belec
Published on January 9, 2014
The Country Ribbon Chicken plant in St. John’s fell victim to the power outages, too. The company lost a day’s production — about 40,000 chickens — due to the power problems. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

It shouldn’t be much longer before grocery store rotisseries and Mary Brown’s outlets around the province are once again stocked with fresh Country Ribbon chicken.

Poultry lovers in and around the St. John’s region, have been shocked by responses  from deli servers: “We’re out of chicken,” over the past few days when looking for a quick suppertime fix.

And some Mary Brown’s restaurants — famous for serving fresh Newfoundland chicken — have had to either close early or resort to selling frozen product.

Country Ribbon CEO Ian Pittman told The Telegram Wednesday the processing plant in Pleasantville fell victim to the blackout Monday, which put production behind schedule.

“Power outages have had an effect on us as well,” said Pittman.

“We were out of production Monday and, because of that, deliveries that would have went to the stores Monday and Tuesday were impacted. We’re back in production as of (Tuesday), we’re in full production today and plan on running as normal over the next two or three days,” he said.

The plant processes, on average, about 40,000 chickens a day and with that many taken out of the mix, there’s going to be a bit of a supply crunch, Pittman said.

“Once our system gets behind, because it’s a fresh product — and on the weekends inventories are not large at the store levels, a little light, but nothing to be concerned with had things gone into production as normal Monday morning — but because of the power outage we weren’t able to run the processing plant, so that basically has us running behind a day,” he said.

Country Ribbon, the province’s major chicken producer and processor, provides products to several grocery chains such as Sobeys, Dominion and Colemans, and restaurants such as Mary Brown’s.

Pittman said as of Wednesday afternoon customers within the city have either received their shipments or they are en route.

While the processing plant was without power for three days, it is behind schedule only one day, as processing isn’t done over the weekend, when the outages lasted the longest.

“We were fortunate in that regard,” said Pittman. “We don’t have a power supply at the plant. Our farms have backup generators for the protection of the animals, but we are dependent upon Newfoundland Power here at the processing plant,” he said.

Denis Kavanagh, manager for Mary Brown’s in Newfoundland, said most of the 40 restaurants across the province were affected in some way by the power outages and the subsequent supply of chicken.

“Some worse than others, unfortunately, like the Village mall, which will be shut down for a week or more,” he said.

Management of the Village Shopping Centre announced Tuesday afternoon the mall will be closed until further notice due to extensive damage to sprinkler and electrical systems Sunday.

Aside from the blackout, there have also been issues regarding the supply of fresh chicken from Country Ribbon, Kavanagh said.

“Yes, we were affected. There were issues with supply and getting fresh product because they were shut down and it is a concern to us, but I know they had a very good communication network in place,” he said.

“They contacted stores several times a day and let them know what the situation was, and what supply was available, and gave us an opportunity to make decisions on what supply we could take and when we need it,” Kavanagh said.

It some cases, inventory had to be reduced and, in a worst-case scenario, some stores had to use frozen products, he said.

“The orders had to be reduced in most instances,” Kavanagh said.

“We usually take 100 per cent fresh bone-in product from Country Ribbon. They do keep a backup of frozen product, obviously a product we don’t prefer to use, but if it’s either no chicken or frozen chicken, we’ll take frozen chicken in order to keep the doors open.”

Kavanagh said being a provincial company, one of the problems regarding supply is it can take a day or three to reach all the stores, and when production is off the whole schedule falls behind.

“Because of the shutdown and the weekend and being on the heels of Christmas, there were some delays and some stores had to take reduced orders, but we’re working with them and Country Ribbon to bring supplies up to where they should be, because basically we’re operating on bare minimums right now until they can meet our supply (needs),” he said.

In response to messages left for Colemans, public relations officer Judy Bennett sent an emailed response.

“I checked with our meat buyer on the Country Ribbon Chicken. Country Ribbon has had its challenges with production on their usual regular basis due to power outages, but we have a good supply of chicken and in areas where fresh may be low we have frozen chicken,” she wrote.

An email from Sobeys communications and corporate affairs said it was looking into The Telegram’s questions. Dominion officials didn’t respond to a request for comment.