Dan Huber looks to the future as CEO at Foster Farms. He aims for sustainable practices in the decades ahead at the Livingston-based poultry company. And he hopes the new line of chicken wings will please Super Bowl viewers early next month.
Huber took over in February 2019 at Foster Farms, the top-selling poultry brand in the West. About 12,000 employees process turkey in Turlock and chicken in Livingston, Fresno, Porterville and four plants in the Northwest and South.
Huber, 55, talked about consumer trends, food safety, sustainability and other topics in a mid-December interview in Livingston. He has worked since 1996 for the company, founded near Waterford by Max and Verda Foster in 1939.
“Our commitment to the Valley has been as strong as ever,” Huber said. “The 80-year celebration of this company has been exciting for all of us.”
Foster Farms sells chicken and turkey in hundreds of forms. Some of it is fresh whole birds or parts, with nothing added. Shoppers also can find marinated meat, frozen and breaded items, deli slices, corn dogs and much more.
Huber’s first few months featured the launch of a line of free-range chicken, from birds that have access to the outdoors. Conventional chickens and turkeys live entirely indoors but still have room to move about.
Free-range came four years after Foster Farms entered the organic and antibiotic-free niches.
The food industry this year has seen a boom in meatless burgers and other plant-based versions of carnivore fare. Huber said Foster Farms will not go that far, but will still respond to the trend. Its Farm & Garden chicken patties will contain vegetables and whole grains along with meat.
“It’s not really replacing poultry per se,” Huber said. “It’s adding to the consumer’s basket, if you will.”
The new chicken wing line is called Take Out Crispy Wings, the name suggesting that they’re as tasty as those from places such as Buffalo Wild Wings. Fosters Farms sells them in four flavors: Classic Buffalo, Sweet Chipotle BBQ, Sweet Thai Chili and Korean BBQ.
The CEO also oversees food-safety measures that were tightened after a salmonella outbreak in 2013. It was traced to the Livingston plant and two chicken plants in Fresno.
Huber said Foster Farms keeps the products safe with intensive sanitation and testing every step of the way.
“We do 400,000-some tests a year, tracking through the farm and through into the plants, maintaining our tight food-safety requirements,” he said.
Salmonella occurs naturally in chickens. Huber reminded consumers that it is rendered harmless by cooking to at least 165 degrees and washing up after handling the raw product.
Foster Farms does not have any expansion plans that will boost its workforce substantially, Huber said. He did note upcoming improvements in Turlock that will streamline the deboning of turkey. And the company is upgrading the part of the Livingston site that supplies restaurants and other food-service clients.
Huber noted Foster Farms’ part in reducing the emissions that contribute to climate change. This will include more efficient burning of natural gas in plant boilers. Refrigerated trucks will be powered by electricity rather than diesel while sitting in the plant yards.
Not in the works for now are electric trucks on the road, something just launched at Frito-Lay in Modesto.
Most of Foster Farms’ poultry feed is corn and soy shipped from the Midwest by rail, which has less impact than trucks.
Huber took over from Laura Flanagan, who had been CEO since 2016. He has held several other posts there, most recently chief operating officer. He also had sales and management positions with Oscar Meyer and Kraft Foods. He has a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.