- Ozark Mountain PoultryOzark Mountain Poultry is rapidly growing in Arkansas as CEO Ed Fryar has recognized the demand for antibiotic-free poultry.
Ozark Mountain Poultry (OMP) is expanding rapidly as chicken raised without antibiotics moves from a niche market to a mainstream product. The growth of OMP has not only helped meet consumer demand for antibiotic-free poultry, but it has also helped save jobs at closing Arkansas poultry plants that may have otherwise been lost.
Ed Fryar, CEO of OMP, headquartered in Rogers, Arkansas, said he originally set out to debone dark meat for larger poultry companies but made the transition to producing chicken raised without antibiotics in 2011. Now the company sells directly to restaurants, to other businesses that use the poultry in their own products and to consumers under the Forester Farmer's Market brand, which is named after the defunct town in Scott County, Arkansas.
Since the change, Fryar has more than doubled his employees. OMP operations, which are all in Arkansas, employ about 1,300 people.
The company's growth is evident in Batesville. In October 2013, Ozark Mountain Poultry bought the Pilgrim's complex, which was scheduled to close.
"If Pilgrim's Pride had closed and no one had purchased the assets and turned them into a going concern, this economy would have been devastated," said Bob Stroud, chairman of the Independence County Economic Development Board.
On March 10, OMP said it will purchase ConAgra Foods' Batesville facility, which it will update and reopen in early 2016. Stroud said the company's expansion will have a ripple effect on construction workers and farmers who grow grain to feed the chickens.
"Dr. Fryar is definitely a dynamic leader for his company and understands the food-processing business in a way that few do in this state," Stroud said. "He did his homework, came to town, and that company has been a good employer."
OMP also has reopened the former H&L Poultry facility in Warren, bought a grain elevator in Bay and is building a new feed mill in Magness -- all since 2014.
Fryar said the growth of OMP was the result of transferring from one niche market to another.
In 2001, Fryar started OMP. His company deboned the back half of birds for larger poultry companies -- a niche market that the companies had mostly ignored because of little demand for dark meat. However, the companies that were contracting with Fryar and others started bringing their operations back in-house.
The change led Petit Jean to close its Arkadelphia plant at the end of 2008, when Tyson Foods didn't renew a deboning contract, and left 385 without jobs.
By 2010, Fryar knew he needed to find a new niche for his 550 employees. About 10 years after the company began operations, OMP made the leap to antibiotic-free birds, following a trend that wasn't widely accepted at the time.
The risk has paid off. In the past five years, the company has gone from 550 employees to about 1,300. Fryar said operations will continue to grow. Last summer the company had 250 poultry houses. By summer 2016, the company will have about 500.