The Pilgrim's Story
The story began on October 2, 1946, when Aubrey Pilgrim and his partner, Pat Johns,
purchased a feed and seed store for $3,500 from W. W. Weems in Pittsburg, Texas.
Soon after forming the partnership, Aubrey asked his brother, Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim,
to join them.
The Early Days
In the early days, the Pilgrims would sell 100 baby chicks and a sack of feed to
local farmers who would take the chicks home and raise them in their back yards,
keeping some for family needs and bringing back the remainder when they were grown.
Selling baby chicks to drive feed sales was one of several innovative ideas that
would later lead to the "vertical integration" model of poultry production used
by nearly every major poultry company today.
The Pilgrim brothers faced a number of tremendous
challenges in building their new business.
"There was nothing remotely close to a long-range plan, a strategic plan, or a business
plan associated with Farmer's Feed and Seed," Bo recalled. "I doubt if there was
even very much time for daydreaming about a future. We were working long hours,
sometimes hauling a load of peas over to the Cass County Canning Co. in Atlanta,
Texas, not getting home until three o'clock in the morning, then getting to the
store to open it at seven o'clock. The fact is, it was all about survival. Survival
meant meeting a customer's expectations so the customer would become a return customer."
He soon learned not only to survive, but also how make a business grow.
"The first year I was with my brother as a partner, we added a warehouse to the
store and, with it, a loading ramp, unloading pit, an elevator to carry feed to
a bagging machine, and an electric sewing machine for the feed sacks," he said.
Bo's early process improvements allowed the company to dramatically reduce wasted
grain, which used to be lost through the cracks of the floor in the feed store,
and enabled the Pilgrim brothers to use automation to sell truckloads of feed out
of the warehouse.
"We began to grow in a way that, looking back, was a set of small but integrated
steps. We didn't know it at the time, of course, that our steps were linked in some
way. We were simply responding to one opportunity after the next. In retrospect,
the pieces of a fairly elaborate puzzle were beginning to fall into place," said
The puzzle soon began to take shape as opportunities
came in the form of acquisitions and capital improvements. The first major expansion
came in the 1950s, when the Pilgrim brothers purchased the Hudson Cotton Gin and
a hatchery in Mt. Pleasant, Texas. They leased their first chicken-processing plant
in Mt. Pleasant in 1960.
Tragedy struck in 1966 when Aubrey Pilgrim died of a heart attack, leaving Bo to
lead the company he had worked so hard to help establish. As Bo remembers, "I can't
begin to tell you what a shock Aubrey's death was to me. My whole world was shaken...
Aubrey and I were brothers and business partners. Nobody was closer to me."
After a long, sleepless night, Bo Pilgrim decided it was up to him to continue the
"That single decision gave my life direction from that day forward," he said. "I
had every hope and intention and motivating desire to run the company to even greater
heights. Failure was not an option."
Growth Through Acquisitions
In the years ahead, the company continued to grow and thrive, purchasing Market
Produce of Fort Worth in 1969 and undergoing two name changes: Pilgrim's Corporation
and Pilgrim Industries, Inc. Several other acquisitions followed, and on November
15, 1986, Pilgrim's Pride Corporation became a publicly owned company listed on
the New York Stock Exchange. One year later, the company expanded into Mexico.
In the 1990s, Pilgrim's Pride continued its growth, acquiring Green Acre Foods,
Inc. in Nacogdoches, Texas. Fast-forward to the acquisition of WLR Foods, Inc.,
in 2001, which expanded the company's sales and marketing capabilities from coast
to coast, and the purchase of ConAgra's chicken division in 2003, which doubled
the size of the company and helped generate record sales and earnings growth for
On December 27, 2006, Pilgrim's Pride completed the acquisition of Atlanta-based
Gold Kist for $1.1 billion in cash and the assumption of approximately $144 million
of debt. At the time, Gold Kist had been the third-largest poultry processor in
America, processing 14 million birds per week and employing 16,500 people at the
time it was acquired by Pilgrim's Pride. With the addition of Gold Kist, Pilgrim's
became the world's leading chicken company in terms of production and the fourth-largest
U.S. meat protein company by revenues.
But by 2008, the chicken market had changed
dramatically. Record-high corn prices, an oversupply of chicken and financial constraints
combined to force Pilgrim's Pride to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in
December 2008. The company brought in a new CEO, Don Jackson, who steered the company
through a 13-month reorganization in which it closed plants, eliminated thousands
of administrative and production jobs, and refocused on becoming a market-driven
company. In December 2009, Pilgrim's emerged from its reorganization as a stronger,
more competitive company. Pilgrim's also achieved an incredibly rare feat for companies
in Chapter 11 – it repaid all creditors in full and preserved significant value
for existing shareholders. JBS USA, a unit of JBS S.A. in Brazil, acquired 64% of
Pilgrim's stock in December 2009.
Today JBS USA controls 75.3% of Pilgrim’s stock.