Kerry expansion at Rome facility a model of commitment and sustainability
In 2019, when nearly every fast-food chain was rolling out a fried chicken sandwich, a company based in Ireland was making its move to be well-positioned to cash in on that trend.
While the term “coated chicken” may not sound very appetizing, Kerry is in the business of creating the flavors and breading that nearly every Southerner craves.
From cracker-based breading to the more delicate crust of a Japanese panko-style dish, they’re made at the company’s expanded 315,000-foot facility off Douglas Street in South Rome.
“We are delighted to officially open this new facility, which more than doubles our capacity in Rome and is now one of the most advanced and modern food manufacturing facilities in the country,” said Oliver Kelly, president and CEO of Kerry in North America. “The increased and changing demand from consumers for tasty, nutritious and sustainable food and beverages is driving accelerated change and reshaping the entire food industry.”
That facility isn’t just baking, packing, and shipping — it also contains the research and development team for each of the product’s flavors.
It also contains passion.
Listening to Michelle Wetzel, the vice president of research and development, talk about the batter and breading of foods in the company’s kitchen, she comes across as a person who loves the process and minutiae of flavor and texture.
They also have a quick turnaround time. Wetzel said there’s often a 24- to 48-hour turnaround time between a customer’s proposal and getting that idea to production.
In that process, they’ve had successes and, we’ll call them experiments. She described one such experiment as “deep-fried funyuns.”
Kerry took over the old Southeastern Mills seasoning and coatings division late in 2018 and quickly invested a total of $137 million to nearly double the capacity of the plant and create one of the most state-of-the-art food manufacturing facilities in the U.S.
That investment represents Kerry’s largest-ever capital expenditure investment and one of the biggest in Georgia’s history, said Pat Wilson, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, on Monday.
He touted the mutually beneficial relationship between Ireland and Georgia.
“Ireland is as far as you’ll ever fly to feel like you just went to your neighbor’s house,” Wilson said.
While sharing the difficulties of an expansion during the pandemic and successes in that time period, the conversation, like many these days, still drifted toward Ukraine.
Irish Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, a guest at the ribbon cutting, spoke of the horrific events continuing to unfold in the war, and said that nurturing trans-Atlantic relationships between European nations and the U.S. are more important than ever.
On a local level, McEntee emphasized Kerry’s commitment to environmental sustainability and the new facility’s use of 100% renewable energy as well as the company’s investment in the community.
As part of what they described as an investment in Rome, Kelly presented checks of $5,000 each to Restoration Rome’s community kitchen, Georgia Highlands College scholarship programs as well as Georgia Northwestern Technical College scholarship programs.
“This world-class facility in Rome, Georgia, is just one example of our dedication to our goal of reaching over two billion people with sustainable nutrition solutions by 2030,” Kelly said. “We are very thankful for the support that we have received from the Governor of Georgia’s office and we look forward to this continued partnership.”