Perdue’s Day speaks with executives, Delmarva Farmer
SALISBURY, Md. (Sept. 5, 2017) — Perdue Farms CEO Randy Day addressed a small collection of Salisbury business executives earlier this month and outlined the company’s approach to poultry production in an era of shifting consumer expectations.
It was one of Day’s first public presentations about Perdue’s emerging, consumer-friendly outlook since the integrator’s former chief operating officer took over the company in March.
Day’s comments, reported in the local Daily Times newspaper, were read across the poultry industry.
Day said Perdue seeks to embrace growing consumer demands on a number of fronts, including the removal of antibiotics from poultry production and more hospitable poultry houses.
Day suggested a variation on the “No Farmers, No Food” bumper stickers popular along the Eastern Shore: “No Customers, No Food.”
“The most powerful voice in our society is the consuming public,” he reportedly told the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 17.
During the meeting, Day touched on the company’s response to animal cruelty videos discovered in 2015, its embrace of European animal welfare standards, farming’s declining labor force and the public’s opinion of large-scale agriculture.
The Delmarva Farmer asked several additional questions to Day after his presentation.
Here are his responses.
Perdue’s shift toward more hospitable chicken houses, eliminating antibiotics from the production process and allowing customers to influence production methods, how are those things likely to affect Perdue’s bottom line? How does it accommodate those ideals with its larger goals of growth and expansion?
“Our goal is to be better, not just bigger, with a focus on premium proteins. We’re not trying to be the largest, or the cheapest. We’re focused on meeting the expectations of our customers and consumers.
“Our move to NAE was deliberate and measured, learning along the way and developing our best practices. We’re taking the same approach to animal care advancements.
“Of course, there will be some attributes that will cost more — just as there are with traits such as organic – and we’ll continue to provide choices in the market. The poultry business as a whole has grown by responding to consumer expectations.”
In your talk to the Salisbury chamber, you described a vision for a more customer-friendly poultry business. How does that compare to what Perdue was doing one or two decades ago? When you look at Perdue’s past production methods were there things specifically that irritated consumers and sowed distrust?
“We have always listened to consumers and customers. That’s how Frank started the brand. What we’re doing now is a continuation of that. Over time, fewer and fewer Americans are involved in farming. According to the USDA, only 2 percent of the population is involved in actual farming.
“That suggests consumers may not know a lot about where their food comes from. However, we see an increasing curiosity from consumers wanting to understand where their food came from, and they have expectations about how food should be raised and produced.
“We’ve always had the trust of consumers; otherwise, we wouldn’t be in business today. Consumer expectations change, though, and to keep that trust, we need to change.
“We do know that some consumers don’t trust big companies. The challenge for us going forward is to prove that a big company can be trusted to do the right things.”
Why, in your opinion, do so many people believe chickens are raised inhumanely?
“I’m not sure people think chickens are raised inhumanely so much as they’re not sure we meet their expectations for what they consider humane. Consumers have legitimate questions: Should chickens be kept in houses that are so dark you can’t read a newspaper? Should chickens be able to exhibit normal behaviors, such as perching and playing?
“The poultry business as a whole has done a very good job meeting the basic needs of chickens: Food, water, shelter and health.
“At Perdue, we’re progressing from meeting just those needs to addressing what a chicken wants — what lets a chicken, be a chicken? We’re charting our progress using the Five Freedoms, a globally accepted standard for animal husbandry that goes beyond the norms for U.S. poultry.”
Was there a specific moment or event that spurred Perdue to move in this new direction?
“As I said, we are always changing to meet consumer and customer expectations, and animal care has always been a priority, so this is a continuation of that. In 2015, after committing to moving to no antibiotics ever, we asked ourselves, “What’s the next big thing for Perdue?” The answer was animal care. At that point, we started accelerating our progress.”
You said when you decided to decrease chicken populations in houses, you adjusted payments to farmers. By how much?
The adjustments are to keep their pay comparable even if we reduce the number of chickens to increase space or lengthen the time between flocks to support improved health conditions.
According to The Daily Times, you told the business owners, “Try not to get evil.” Was Perdue or the larger chicken industry ever in danger of reaching that point?
“I was referring to the perception among some that big is bad, especially big ag.
“Perdue got bigger because people liked our products and wanted more, and more. Every business is trying to grow. Growth does not make a company bad as long as it stays true to its values, which I believe strongly is what Perdue has done and will do.”
Anything you’d like to add?
“We learned a great deal from our experience with organic chickens through the 2011 acquisition of Coleman Natural Foods. The organic chickens are healthier, and the meat is different. We believe the changes we’re making are not only better for the chickens, but also better for the consumers.”
Easton, MD 21601-8925