New business model helped duck producer survive pandemic

Cris Collingwood//June 5, 2023

Duck breast offered for retail by Joe Jurgielewicz & Son, Ltd. - PHOTO/COURTESY OF JOE JURGIELEWICZ & SONS

New business model helped duck producer survive pandemic

Cris Collingwood//June 5, 2023

A wholesale Pekin duck farm in Berks County survived the pandemic by turning to direct to consumer sales.

Joey Jurgielewicz of Joe Jurgielewicz & Son, Ltd, 189 Cheese Lane, Hamburg, said the company, like most restaurant and grocery suppliers, was hit hard by the pandemic when restaurants were closed.

“We raise Pekin ducks for restaurants and retailers,” he said. “When COVID hit, we shifted gears and had to focus on retail and direct to consumer sales.”

The company, owned by Jurgielewicz’s father, Joe, and brothers Jim, Michael and Brian, created an online store to sell duck and meal kits to stay afloat. They are able to deliver the duck within two days, which Jurgielewicz said makes it very fresh.

“There is a fear factor about ducks,” he said. “People are skittish about cooking duck so we created a Peking Duck kit that is like what people would find in an Asian restaurant.”

The Jurgielewiczs networked with other poultry and meat producers to find the market for the duck. Jurgielewicz said. They turned to local media and especially social media to get the word out that the products were available.

“The agriculture industry as a whole was in a sink or swim mode,” he said. “We even turned to foodie influencers and chefs, and we gave a lot of samples out.”

The operation was dependent on educating consumers about duck. He said duck has the highest amount of protein among poultries and its flavorful and tender. But still, people think of duck as greasy.

Jurgielewicz said the secret is the meat to fat ratio.

“If there is too much fat, it will be greasy. If there is not enough, it will be dry. We get the right amount of fat through our genetics program,” he said.

Once restaurants were allowed to reopen, even for just take out, Jurgielewicz said business ramped back up, but the company decided to keep the direct-to-consumer offerings.

“We were able to reach a new market and get people interested in trying duck,” he said.

The company, which is vertically integrating, meaning it breeds, raises, processes and distributes the duck, is the only veterinarian-owned duck operation. Jurgielewicz said his father and brother Jim, are both veterinarians.

The family raises about 12 million ducks per year on several farms throughout Pennsylvania and New York. The family owns five farms and contracts with about 25 others.

Jurgielewicz said some Asian restaurants will order 300 ducks a day while smaller bistros might order a case of 12 to 20 ducks a week.

“The dish is more popular in Asian Fusion restaurants but it’s getting more popular in French and American establishments.

COVID wasn’t the end of the 90-year-old business’s issues. Last year, it lost half its flock to Avian Influenza. Jurgielewicz said through hard work, biosecurity and a new way of thinking, the company was able to overcome the losses.

He said all trucks are washed down before entering and leaving the farm and they allow very few visitors to the premises.

Jurgielewicz attributes the containment of Avian Influenza to the multiple farms the family runs or contracts with.

“Pardon the pun, but you can’t put all your eggs in one basket,” he said.

Looking forward, Jurgielewicz said, “We are back in full force promoting duck. People are more likely to order it at a restaurant, but we are hopeful people will try it when they see it at the grocery store. And it’s still available online.”