Me & My Team

From farm to factory: Inside Soanes Poultry

By Ben Lee

- Last updated on GMT

Ben Lee, MD at Soanes Poultry
Ben Lee, MD at Soanes Poultry

Related tags me & my team

Soanes Poultry’s managing director Ben Lee covers how he came into the food sector and the importance of animal welfare at the Yorkshire chicken producer.

Company: ​Soanes Poultry

Address: ​Church Hill Farm, Middleton-on-the-Wolds, East Yorkshire, UK, YO25 9UG

Number of employees: ​139 FTE

Size of site: ​18,000m2

Output: ​7.5 million chickens

Types of lines: ​Whole chicken and portions

I have had an interest in food from a young age and joined Soanes Poultry straight after A-levels as a stopgap until I decided what I wanted to do. Within a short amount of time, I realised that there were so many career opportunities within the business that I chose to stay.

Over the last 15 years, I have risen through the ranks, starting as a dispatch operative in 2008 followed by operational and sales roles, until I was appointed to the board as sales and marketing director in January 2021 and promoted to managing director in January 2022.

Alongside my role as managing director, I also work within the commercial team (of five), looking after national accounts. Our sales manager, Tammy McDonald, meanwhile looks after wholesalers. We also have a customer service co-ordinator and brand ambassador, Robert Laird and experienced sales co-ordinators, Sally Kendall and Liz Walker, who make up this team.

Our accounting team of three is headed up by our financial director Claire Wright, who manages our reporting needs both financially and operationally, so that we can be fast and nimble in an ever-changing market.

A sense of community

Although we employ more than 130 people, the business has a real family feeling due to the active involvement of the Soanes family who founded the business in 1947.

We are based in a small village in the heart of the Yorkshire Wolds and are proud to support the communities that provide us with a workplace and our work family. We support a food poverty charity, provide chicken to a local special education school to help the students learn cooking skills and we support a grass roots junior football team, to name just a few initiatives.

We also showcase our office, factory and farms team on the website and are proud to include the name of the farmer and the farm on our tray-wrapped chicken labels.

Partnering with farmers

We feed our chicken on a ration that includes a minimum of 65% wheat that is grown by the Soanes family and milled within five miles of the factory. We think it’s this ration, combined with exceptional husbandry and the short distances that the chickens travel from farm to factory that accounts for our chicken’s consistently great taste.

Our poultry health team comprises all the farmers who walk their flocks several times a day, plus a technical and improvement manager and a poultry and farms supervisor whose brief is to ensure that the chickens enjoy a welfare-rich life.

We select our farms based on proximity to the factory so that the birds have a short journey (maximum of 20 miles). We have a combination of owned farms and selected contractors who we have partnered with for decades.

Moving the chickens from farm to factory

The chickens are caught by hand by our own team of catchers who catch at times that will cause the birds the least stress. They are driven the short distance to the factory where they are processed by our skilled operatives, butchered in our bespoke portioning department before being packed and delivered to our customers nationwide by our own team of drivers.

It’s important for us that we have direct control over the complete process from one-day-old chicks right through to the customer.

Upon arrival from the farms, the chickens are transferred to the lairage where they are inspected (anti-mortum) by an FSA Official Veterinarian, who is on-site at all times during processing, alongside a member of our onsite animal welfare team.

The chickens then move through to the slaughter and evisceration (EV) departments. These are staffed by an experienced team, led by team leaders and overseen by our factory management. Meanwhile, the technical team ensures that we conform to our exceptionally high standards that have led to our BRC AA grade accreditation.  

The chickens then spend three hours in an air chiller before moving to the packing room where they are sorted into size and format (gas flushed, tray wrapped or bagged) before being boxed up ready for our customers. Birds selected for cutting move through to the bespoke portioning department where our team of 30 butchers portion and pack the chicken according to customer specifications.

The chicken is then transferred to our 250 pallet onsite cold storage facility before it's despatched by our own drivers and fleet (6 x 26T, 3 x 7.5T and 5 x 3.5T) to butchery wholesalers, catering butchers, ready meal manufacturers, high end national restaurant chains and independent retailers and restaurants throughout the UK.

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