LIVINGSTON, Calif. — After more than 80 years, Foster Farms is owned by someone other than the Foster family. At the helm now is Atlas Holdings and Donnie Smith, a former Tyson CEO, who says he's still got a lot of listening to do before establishing a vision for the company.
"You really don't understand why things happen, or exactly what's happening, until you're actually out here on the ground, meeting with people and asking questions and having them tell you what they do, how they do it and why they do it that way," Smith told ABC10.
Despite his extensive experience in the food business, Smith said his first objective is to listen.
“I think it's really important that I not bring any preconceived ideas about how to best help the Foster Farms team from any past experience,” Smith said.
Industry expert and head of the California Poultry Federation, Bill Mattos, described Smith as a rock star in the poultry business and was confident that the new leadership team would hit the ground running.
However, when it comes to the strategy for Foster Farms, Smith said that will come in due time. Nonetheless, one thing he's already certain about is that no one has to fear for their job because of the company's sale.
“There’s no reason for anybody working with the company to fear (for) their job,” Smith said.
Foster Farms is a top employer in Stanislaus County. It's also considered a "golden brand," and the largest poultry business on the West Coast, according to Mattos.
Even when Smith was CEO of Tyson, he acknowledged that Foster Farms was had some serious strength and an enviable position on the West Coast. He actually came out of retirement in order to take the helm at Foster Farms.
"There were very few opportunities that would cause me to, frankly, get out of what was a deliriously happy retirement. I had a very fulfilling retirement, but for me, this was such an intriguing and such a phenomenal opportunity for me... I just couldn't say no."
While Mattos refers to Smith as a rock star, Smith himself prefers to view himself as a "pretty simple guy." He grew up with the food industry, working with Tyson, learning about prepared foods and learning about the pork and beef businesses as well.
"I have a deep passion for people. I have a deep passion for creating great food, I have a deep passion for taking care of hungry, hungry people. And just look, I love people," Smith said.
Smith said his attention is more focused on making the Foster team a fluid one and keeping his employees safe, adding that he'll leave the product ideas to the experts. For now, he said people should expect what they've come to expect of the Foster Farms brand.
"No immediate changes in mind for the product mix. I've always... looked West and with a great deal of admiration about the business that the Foster family has developed out here and have always admired their their presence on the shelf, have always admired the quality of their food - I've always admired their great tasting products, and all that will continue," Smith said.
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