- Tyson Foods on Thursday officially opened an automated bacon processing plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky, significantly expanding production and allowing the meat giant to innovate with new products.
- The 400,000-square-foot facility, which will employ 450 workers, has enough capacity to process 2 million pounds of Jimmy Dean and Wright’s branded bacon for food service and retail every week. It features box-stacking robots and other advanced automation capabilities to promote efficiency while reducing workplace injuries.
- “This enables us to focus on the health and safety of our team members while also delivering the best in class service for customers,” CEO Donnie King said in a statement. Tyson also recently opened a highly automated chicken plant in Danville, Virginia following a string of facility closures and downsizing to shore up costs last year.
Tyson broke ground on the Bowling Green location in February 2022 as consumer habits shifted post-COVID and demand rose for bacon and pork bellies.
Prices of sliced bacon surged nearly 40% after March 2020, surpassing $7 at the retail counter, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index. Last year, prices softened some as the industry navigated an oversupply of hogs and shoppers faced higher costs at the grocery store. Bacon averaged $6.77 per pound in December.
The new factory allows Tyson to further experiment with bacon flavors, cuts and products such as fully-cooked bacon, the company said. Tyson selected Bowling Green partially because of the plant’s proximity to raw materials in its pork supply chain, as well as inbound and outbound transportation lanes. Pork bellies will be provided primarily by Tyson's pork segment, the company said.
“Bacon is a growing category based on consumer demand, both at home and at restaurants, and our expanded production will enable us to lead this growth and drive innovation,” Melanie Boulden, group president of prepared foods and chief growth officer at Tyson, said in a statement.
Beyond capacity, Tyson said it designed the plant with worker safety and well-being in mind. High-tech robots are there to “help eliminate ergonomically stressful tasks,” such as transporting large pork bellies along production lines and stacking boxes. There are also driverless forklifts and autonomous guide vehicles that move products through production zones.
This is the latest high-tech facility from Tyson, which is leaning into automation to boost efficiency. In November, Tyson began production at a $300 million chicken nugget factory in Danville, Virginia with automated case packing lines and high-speed robotic case palletizing units.
The plant openings come after Tyson closed six chicken processing plants last year as it dealt with rising input costs, unfavorable commodity markets and waning consumer demand. The company also recently closed two case-ready meat plants in Florida and South Carolina, affecting hundreds of workers.
Tyson is scheduled to report its first-quarter earnings on Monday, Feb. 5., before the markets open.