The Pilgrim's Story

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.

Overcoming Obstacles

Aubrey E. PilgrimThe 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 Bo.

Bo PilgrimThe 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 Pilgrim's legacy.

"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 Pilgrim's Pride.

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.