Half a tractor-trailer of Island beef was shipped from Atlantic Beef Products to the U.S. for the first time last month.

The P.E.I. company says its plant in Albany is now operating at capacity and ready to expand.

"We have grown our market significantly over the past few years to the point where we are now looking to make this plant bigger in the next year or two," said Russ Mallard, president of Atlantic Beef Products.

The company's U.S. customer is a Florida-based wholesaler with distribution warehouses in nine locations along the Atlantic seaboard, as well as in Texas, Mallard said.

Russ Mallard

'We have grown our market significantly over the past few years,' says Russ Mallard, president of Atlantic Beef Products. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Executives from the Colorado Boxed Beef Company visited P.E.I. earlier this year before making the decision to begin purchasing Island beef, Mallard said.

"American consumers buy more cuts such as skirt, flank and beef tips," Mallard said. "Those cuts are less popular here in Canada, so it's a good fit."

'Niche is what we're looking for'

The American company says they are branding the beef from the Island plant as a premium kind of meat.

"It's a small niche plant, which is both a good thing, and maybe a challenge," said Jeff Trafford, a senior director with the Colorado Boxed Beef Co. "It's a good thing because there's not enough product to go around. And when that happens, of course it becomes highly sought after, and helps drive that premium."

"So the niche is what we're looking for — that this isn't something that everybody has," he added.

Beef production

Atlantic Beef Products is now processing 500 to 600 animals a week. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

The plant in Albany has doubled production in the past couple of years, according to Mallard, and is now processing 500 to 600 animals a week.

The U.S. customer would buy more product if it were available, according to Mallard. The company continues to encourage local beef farmers to increase herd size.

Exploring markets in China

"There's room to do more beef," Mallard said. "I think the good news for the farmers of this region is that they can put beef on feed knowing that we're going to be here over the long term."

In addition to the new U.S. customer, Atlantic Beef Products is also exploring new markets in China.

The company intends to hire more workers when the plant expands.  It currently employs 120 people full time, according to Mallard.