Gold Kist President and Chief Executive Officer John Bekkers talks about the company's future during ribbon-cutting ceremonies for a $70 million expansion Nov. 2.

Gold Kist cut the ribbon on what company chief John Bekkers called "the largest single investment Gold Kist has ever made in a facility" Nov. 2, a $70 million, 180,000 square foot expansion of its Live Oak plant.

About 300 local dignitaries and guests attended the ceremony, which included a brief talk by Commissioner of Agriculture Charles Bronson and a tour of the new facility.

Part of the expansion includes air-chilling technology that cools chickens without immersing them in water. The chickens travel five miles of track while being cooled to 38 degrees.

Chickens processed in this fashion will be antibiotic-free and raised on an all-vegetable diet. They will first be sold by Publix supermarkets under the GreenWise Market label. Gold Kist and Publix already have a long relationship. All chicken sold under the Publix label is bought from Gold Kist.

"Consumers want a healthy product," Bekkers, the company's president and chief executive officer, told the assembled crowd. "It's not a huge market, but it continues to grow."

Bronson said the expansion is evidence "agriculture in the state of Florida is not dead and is not dying."

Noting Gold Kist's relationship with Publix, Bronson said "these types of partnerships are making agriculture even stronger and better in the state of Florida."

"I hope one day you have to spend another $70 million to expand on this facility so you can produce even more," he added.

Bekkers said the new facility uses state-of-the-art food safety technology as well as advanced robotics to ensure quick product rotation and the quick processing of orders.

"Bekkers said the expansion will add about 100 jobs to the Live Oak plant's payroll. More than 1,300 workers are currently employed there.

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