Premier Kosher Inc., a company located in Smithville, southwest of Hamilton, has been granted the right to provide Ontario-raised and processed chickens to the kosher market.
Chicken Farmers of Ontario (CFO), which oversees the production and marketing of chickens in Ontario, announced March 17 that Premier was granted an allocation that will see it process 50,000 birds per week. The plant will be located in Abingdon, in the Niagara region, and is expected to begin operations in January 2017.
Paul Tzellos is president of Premier Kosher. Raised on poultry farms, he’s been in the business in various capacities, including raising and transporting, for 40 years. Adding the processing component to the business has been a goal of his for years. Doing so while serving the Jewish community has special meaning, he said.
“We believe in the covenantal word with Abraham. We are honoured to work with the Jewish community.”
Tzellos said Premier was late to the bidding process, but when the CFO was unable to find an appropriate producer, he entered the contest in August 2015. The company devoted a lot of time and energy to putting together the winning bid. He estimates his firm’s financial commitment will be “$6 million, at the low end.”
“Our goal is to start off and produce the highest quality kosher chicken we can provide. We want to be Chai’s standards and higher. That’s our goal,” he said.
Tzellos was referring to Chai Poultry, which provided kosher chickens to Ontario consumers until it sold its quota to a halal producer and closed in May 2013. Since then, there have been no Ontario-produced kosher chickens. Marvid, a Quebec-based company, stepped into the breach, but consumers complained about their chickens’ quality and that store shelves were often empty.
Tzellos said he had consulted with Chuck Weinberg, who owned Chai, for advice on technical matters and regarding community relations.
There may be another aspect to the relationship as well. Tzellos said the chickens, when they finally become available, will carry the Premier brand, but they may also be marketed as Chai chickens.
“It could be Chai in the future,” he said. “We still haven’t finalized it. There still are opportunities. People would like to see the Chai product on the shelves.”
According to a CFO news release, the Kashruth Council of Canada, known as COR, will work with Premier Kosher to provide kosher certification.
“Ontario’s Jewish community has been looking forward to welcoming the arrival of a new kosher processing plant for several years to provide local Ontario-grown, fresh, kosher chicken,” said Richard Rabkin, executive director of COR. “COR is pleased to be working with Premier Kosher Inc. to ensure that kosher consumers have a range of products in the marketplace to choose from.”
Michael Edmonds, director of communications and government relations for CFO, said the agency is “very pleased. It was a long process. The board was doing its due diligence that the accepted applicant met all the criteria,” including assets, access to a plant, financing, marketing and expertise in the sector.
Over the course of time, several applicants “dropped out.”
“We would have liked to have done it quicker,” he added.
CFO turned over the evaluation process to Deloitte, a consulting firm, because of their expertise in evaluating business plans, and its recommendation was examined by the CFO board.
Premier “made a strong business case,” he said.
Edmonds said some of the bids that were withdrawn came short in terms of familiarity with the industry, engineering knowledge, plant availability, secure financing and other requirements.
Edmonds said the plant being proposed by Premier has been used as “a red meat plant” and will need to be converted to handle chickens. COR will provide the supervision to ensure it meets kosher standards.
Edmonds rejected suggestions the CFO favoured COR over other a certification agencies.
“There are a number of certification agencies in the marketplace. As far as we were concerned, all are acceptable.”
Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said the organization had been interceding with provincial and federal governments for years to ensure Ontario consumers receive locally produced kosher chickens.
“We did that in a non-partisan way. We didn’t have a particular consortium or individual that we were trying to promote,” he said.
Fogel said CIJA worked to educate CFO personnel about the importance of kosher chickens to the community and that the availability of other, non-kosher poultry would not satisfy their needs.
Fogel said that with the demise of Chai, kosher consumers faced problems related to access to chickens, their quality, quantity, variety, “not to mention, pricing.”
Fogel found “a lack of fluency” at CFO about the kosher market. “I don’t fault anyone for that. It was just a long process to go through.”
But as time passed and no bidder was selected, the situation was becoming untenable.
“It came to a head by signals from us, echoed by COR, that we were at the end of the line in patience to have this resolved in a constructive way. We wouldn’t be able to interpret further delays as anything other than bad faith and an unwillingness to meet the needs of the kosher consumer,” he said.
Photo: Kate Brady Flickr