Tyson Foods Inc. has announced the introduction of a new line of fresh, all natural chicken produced at the company’s Fresh Plant in Wilkesboro from broilers raised in the Wilkes County area.

NatureRaised Farms chicken products are scheduled to be available to consumers in certain geographical areas in the first half of April, said Worth Sparkman, Tyson public relations manager. Details about the initial volume being produced haven’t been released.

In accordance with U.S. Department of Agriculture standards, “all natural” means chicken with no artificial ingredients, no added color and only minimally processed (altered).

Sparkman said the chickens are raised cage-free (like other Tyson chickens), without antibiotics and are fed a 100 percent vegetarian diet.

NatureRaised Farms is being launched amid increased demand for chicken overall as consumers switch from higher-priced beef and pork to less expensive proteins like chicken.

Tyson officials said the company’s chicken business is excelling due to higher demand and that about 50 jobs were added at the Tyson complex in Wilkesboro in the last month. About 2,700 people work there now.

“Demand is strong, and we’re seeing signs of consumers trading from beef to chicken,” said Tyson Chief Operating Officer James Lochner. “Even with pricing up substantially year over year, chicken is a good value for consumers, and foodservice continues to promote chicken heavily.”

NatureRaised Farms chicken will initially be offered tray-packed as drumsticks and bone-in thighs (both three piece), as boneless, skinless breasts and thighs (both three piece or eight piece) and as boneless, skinless breast tenders (three servings). It will also be offered as a whole bird in a bag.

 “More than ever, consumers want choices when they shop for their families,” said Joe DePippo, senior vice president of natural foods business development for Tyson Foods. “Research shows strong and growing demand for all natural and minimally processed foods, and that is the market we’ll fill with NatureRaised Farms products.”

Sparkman said NatureRaised Farms chickens are certified by the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) as GAP Step Level 2 or by the American Humane Association as American Humane Certified. GAP Step Level 2 means they’re “provided with at least one enrichment to stimulate their natural behavior in their indoor environment” and they’re not raised in cages.

Tyson Foods has offered Open Prairie Natural Angus, a natural, minimally processed line of beef products, since 2009. It and NatureRaised Farms chicken are part of Tyson’s strategy to diversify business through higher-margin, value added products.

“We’re going to grow sales of domestic value-added chicken and prepared foods,” said Dennis Leatherby, Tyson’s executive vice president and CFO. “We’re not a commodity protein company…. Value added is currently about a third of our sales, which includes food service as well as branded retail products.”

Leatherby added, “Looking ahead to 2014 and beyond, we expect total company top-line sales to grow 3-4 percent annually, and value-added sales should grow 6-8 percent a year. We expect sales from international production to grow at an annual rate of 12-16 percent.

International growth is focused on production and further processing in Brazil, China and India, in addition to Tyson’s long-standing poultry business in Mexico.

More details about NatureRaised Farms products are at www.natureraisedfarms.com.

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