JBS Prepared Foods’ Principe Food Facility has won FOOD ENGINEERING magazine’s Plant of the Year.

JBS Prepared Foods’ Principe facility in Columbia, MO, facility is a 315,000-sq.-ft. greenfield project situated on 80 acres for salami, pepperoni, prosciutto, coppa and pancetta products under the Swift brand and other private label banners. Stellar performed design-build services for the state-of-the-art project.

Principe became part of JBS Prepared foods in 2021 after JBS acquired Italian meats company Grupo King’s. Principe has been delivering high-quality sliced meats for 75 years and is considered a leader in their craft. Noting the absence of a legitimate Italian meats facility in the U.S., the company sought to create a new tradition that would honor Principe’s Italian heritage while providing authentic quality dry-cured meats.

The project makes effective use of automation and new technology to ramp up production and throughput of uniquely Italian, old-world style dried meats. The process workflow sees raw product materials received at one end where they’re manually inspected before being loaded into receptacles to be blended, stuffed, formed and tied by an automated system.

Meats are then moved to a second area for drying. They’re hung from a robotic gantry system that’s approximately 18 ft. high that can load numerous racks at a time. The facility relies heavily on automated guided vehicles—that can automatically track the weight of product throughout the process—to reduce human intervention, particularly in the thermal processes. These vehicles are then used to take product to the fermenting, salting or drying rooms (depending on the product) to cure.

The third and final ready-to-eat area is where the meats are brought after curing to be manually peeled and either packaged straight away or automatically sliced and then packaged.

“We worked to make sure products move throughout the plant efficiently, from manufacturing to packaging, using strategic equipment layout and technology, including AGVs, gantry robots and conveyor belts,” says Jim Oko, project executive at Stellar.

The plant will be featured in the April cover story of FOOD ENGINEERING and the award will be presented at the annual Food Automation & Manufacturing Symposium and Expo, held April 7-9 at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in Bonita Springs, FL.