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Of Poultry And Family

February 18, 2013

Perdue Incorporated operates live production and processing facilities in around 15 U.S. states through about 2,200 contracted poultry farmers. It is one of the largest poultry (chicken and turkey) producers in the U.S. The firm sells poultry in the U.S. as well as in over 100 countries through retail food outlets and to foodservice customers. Most of its business is done in the eastern half of the U.S.

The company was founded in 1920 by Arthur W. Perdue who was a railway express agent on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and his wife Pearl. The enterprise first sold eggs. Then in 1925 Purdue branched out building the company’s first hatchery and sold layer chickens to farmers instead of only eggs for human consumption.  Perdue’s son Frank Perdue joined the company in 1939 after dropping out of college at age 19.

Another major shift occurred the following year when the company began selling broiler chickens instead of selling layer chickens. One of the reasons for this shift was due to a poultry disease that swept the region. It destroyed most of the company’s flocks and was threatening to wipe out the family business.

In the 1950s the enterprise was incorporated as A.W. Perdue & Son. Frank assumed leadership of the business. It was also during this period that the firm began contract local farmers to raise its chicken and supply chicken for processing as well as opening a second hatchery in North Carolina.

Frank started vertically integrating the company in the 1960s by investing in grain receiving and soybean processing as source for feed ingredients. It also made the company a key player in the grain and oil seed business. In 1968 the company opened its first processing plant further vertically integrating.

Frank Perdue was a pioneer in advertising by becoming the first company leader to successfully serve as advertising spokesperson in a major branding campaign. The company continued to innovate including the breeding of meatier chickens.

Another milestone occurred in 1991 when Frank’s son Jim Purdue became company chairman. The firm has now seen three generations of the Perdue family running the family-owned company.  Like his father Jim is also the face of the company.  The firm formed another company Perdue Agribusiness which processes grain for animal feed and pet food ingredients, makes vegetable oils, and manufactures fertilizer and renewable fuel.

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