What do you get when you combine Jewish rabbis and a chicken farm? You get Empire Kosher Poultry. The company is the world's largest processor of kosher poultry and has 65 rabbis on staff. Empire processes and distributes fresh, frozen, and prepared chicken and turkey, as well as value-added chicken and turkey products, such as turkey pastrami, breaded chicken tenders, and pizza. Its processing facilities have a capacity to handle 225,000 chickens per week. Empire sells its poultry to butcher shops, delis, supermarkets, and club stores across the US and throughout the rest of the world. In 2010 the company acquired Kosher Valley, a New York-based kosher poultry processor, from Hain Pure Protein.
Mergers and Acquisitions
The acquisition has expanded Empire's line of brand-name kosher meats for consumers. Introduced in 2009, the Kosher Valley brand offers certified kosher, antibiotic-free, vegetarian-fed, and humanely raised chicken and turkey products. Its poultry items are available at Whole Foods and other specialty food retailers. As part of the deal, production of Kosher Valley's products shifted from Plainville, New York, to Empire's plant in Mifflintown, Pennsylvania. Hain Pure Protein is a joint venture of organic products producer Hain Celestial Group and private equity firm Pegasus Capital Advisors. Hain Pure Protein received shares in Empire for the sale of the Kosher Valley brand; Hain Celestial chairman and CEO Irwin Simon and Pegasus Capital's Rodney Cohen also agreed at the time to join Empire's board.
The vertically integrated company operates its own breeder farms, hatcheries, feed mills, grow-out houses, and processing facilities, and contracts with local farmers to raise natural, free-roaming birds. Its primary plant is located in Pennsylvania.
Sales and Marketing
Empire sells its products to poultry to butcher shops, delis, supermarkets, and club stores under the Empire Kosher Poultry brand. It sells its Kosher Valley line exclusively for Whole Foods.
As a service to customers and non-customers, to those of the Jewish faith and those not, the company's Web site features an Ask the Rabbi link where Empire's rabbinic staff answers questions about Jewish life, faith, and traditions. And, just like Butterball, it offers a free turkey hot line during the Thanksgiving holiday season for people with questions about preparation of the turkey.
Answering to customer demand, the company has added organic and antibiotic-free kosher birds to its line of 650 kosher items.
With the 2008 bankruptcy and collapse of the #1 US kosher meat producer Agriprocessors, Empire and other kosher producers have increased poultry output to meet the resultant increased demand. Indeed, the company has upped its production by 50%, adding 100,000 chickens a week to the US kosher food market.
Empire is owned by an investor group composed of individuals from kosher-keeping households through private firm Palisades Associates.
Empire Kosher was founded in 1938 by Joseph N. Katz, an immigrant from Austria. Katz founded the company after he realized that the US Jewish population, which was moving out of urban areas into the suburbs and countryside, was having trouble finding kosher foods. He even sent for rabbis from Israel and Europe to ensure that Empire was following the 3,000-year-old Jewish dietary laws. The company grew and Katz invested in new equipment and began offering frozen, vacuum-wrapped poultry. By the 1950s, Empire was offering not only fresh and frozen poultry, but fresh deli meats and pizza. Katz retired from the company in 1992 and died in 2005.