Image via Mary's Chickens
Written by Frank Lopez
A family owned local business has been growing by leaps and bounds in the face of Covid-19.
Pitman Family Farms based in Sanger, with facilities in Hanford and Fresno, has seen its products, especially its flagship product, Mary’s Free Range Chickens, remain popular during the pandemic.
Just earlier this year, Pitman Farms bought the Del Monte Foods property across the street from its Sanger plant for more parking, storage and operations space.
Mary Pitman, co-owner, runs the business with her family. Her son, David, currently serves as principal. With knowledge gained from studying nutrition for more than 20 years, Mary’s organic chickens and ducks are highly regarded in the culinary world.
Pitman Family Farms has also been expanding its workforce. The company reported 1,500 total employees in 2019. Last year, that number slipped to 1,200. But in its response to The Business Journal’s 2021 Food Processors list last month, it reported 2,200 workers.
“We are constantly developing new products and coming out with new stuff,” Pitman said. “We do only the raw products out in Sanger, but we are a combination of a lot of small farms. We’ve kept ourselves and other small chicken farms here in the Valley in business.”
Pitman said that the company took Covid-19 safety protocols very seriously from the beginning, and employees that worked in the offices were sent to work from home for some time.
Just recently, Pitman Farms sold Sprouts Farmers Market its organic ground turkey and organic ground chicken to eventually be sold under the Sprouts label.
The labels are being prepared for new products—an organic chicken bone broth, organic chicken sausages, and in the last year, Pitman Farms launched its lunchmeat line for chicken, turkey, ham and roast beef.
The farm also sold its chicken nugget and chicken strip products for national distribution at Whole Foods Market and Sprouts. The chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and Cornish game hens are sold in Whole Foods including in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Hawaii.
All of the rotisserie chickens in Whole Foods in California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii all come from Mary’s Free Range Chickens.
Pitman said that Mary’s Free Range Chickens received the first non-GMO logo in the U.S. for non-organic and organic chicken, and one of her sons, Ben, worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a year to come up with organic standards.
Mary’s chickens are the most highly recommended chickens by the “America’s Test Kitchen” cooking program, Pitman said.
The chickens are also featured in a Costco Book, “The Chicken Bible”, saying they are the most highly recommended chickens from the West Coast.
Because of the quality of care that is required for the chickens, lots of workers are required, but Pitman said that with so many people receiving money from the government, it’s been hard to find workers.
Pitman said it’s a miracle the company has survived. In 2000, it was nearly going out of business, and at that time, they had a two-year contract to raise chicken and turkeys, but after that they would have to close the ranch for some time.
However, in that span of two years, the popularity of the chickens surged and the company is doing very well today.
The company has opened a medical facility across from the plant in Sanger, not only for its employees, but for employee’s families as well.
“We are very grateful to still be in business,” Pitman said. “My husband says that us staying in business was an answer to other’s prayers more than ours. Our job is to make jobs for other people and help a lot of families that work for us.”