Editor's Plate: Perdue Is a Wholesome, Folksy Choice for our Processor of the Year

Dec. 8, 2020
Our 2020 Processor of the Year is a $7 billion company that’s managed to maintain family values.

We’ve had 16 Processors of the Year since 2005, most pretty old (Nestle, Heinz and Hormel go back to the 19th century) and some relatively young (Hearthside, Chobani, WhiteWave and TreeHouse all were founded in this millennium). Two and a half (I’m counting H.J. Heinz as the half) no longer exist. With the exception of 15-year-old Chobani, all those companies are quite different today than they were when they were founded. For better or worse.

Not so with Perdue Farms, this year’s Processor of the Year. Despite several acquisitions along the way, 100-year-old Perdue still resembles the business started by Arthur Perdue back in 1920. Then the focus was eggs, and admittedly that commodity has fallen by the wayside. But those eggs came from chickens in the yard of Pearl and Arthur Perdue, and poultry still forms the foundation and bulk of this company.

“Commodity” is one word no longer in the vocabulary at Perdue. Second-generation leader Frank Perdue worked hard to make Perdue chickens better than others on the market and established that as the company’s point of differentiation, a point that’s perhaps even more important today. Strong, ask-for brands were just getting established in his day, and Frank wanted Perdue to be one of those brands. Jim Perdue has furthered that philosophy.

Another way Perdue is different from our other Processors of the Year is family ownership. The only other company on our list to make that claim is Mars. Even Chobani now has a big share of ownership in the hands of employees. It’s quite a trick to reach 100 years and $7 billion in sales and still be owned by the family whose name is on the front door.

“Family values” became the obvious theme after talking with executives from Perdue Farms. Like so many things in this pandemic year, our usual in-person visit was replaced by a Zoom meeting with Chairman Jim Perdue (although our Senior Editor Pan Demetrakakes managed to get inside a plant). Generous with his time and genuine in conversation, Jim Perdue truly sounded like a guy who cares about his company, the animals and the 21,000 employees who work there.

At a time when other companies are just embarking on programs for the humane treatment of animals and the removal of antibiotics and growth hormones, Perdue has been at it for years and has been recognized for its leadership role.

Perdue also impressed us with its commitment to people and the planet. A number of animal protein companies have started on-premises health centers as a result of the pandemic. Perdue’s been at it for more than a decade, and in 2008 those centers were recognized by U.S. Health and Human Services. Awards also have been won for environmental programs and charitable efforts; the Franklin P. and Arthur W. Perdue Foundation annually supports organizations and programs in the communities where Perdue employees live and work.

Perdue aptly fulfills our Processor of the Year criteria for sound financial performance (including expanding sales and profitability), innovative product development, leading manufacturing technology, managerial excellence, general industry leadership and service.

We've taken a three story look at Perdue: a business/overview story, a product development one and one devoted to manufacturing. Happy 100th birthday, Perdue; you’re a very worthy Processor of the Year.

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