Poultry industry icon, Bo Pilgrim dies at 89

by Joel Crews
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 Bo Pilgrim
Bo Pilgrim helped start the company with his brother in 1946.
 
PITTSBURG, Texas – Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim, who co-founded Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. more than seven decades ago, died at his home July 21, 2017 at the age of 89, surrounded by his family.

“Few, if any, poultry pioneers have marked the industry with such a lasting and unique impact as did Mr. Pilgrim,” said Mike Brown, president of the National Chicken Council. “His passion and devotion to his business, his faith, and the National Chicken Council continues to inspire many. Mr. Pilgrim’s passing encourages us to reflect on a life well lived. Bo and his family are in our thoughts and prayers.”

Bill Lovette, Pilgrim’s current CEO, expressed the significant role Pilgrim played in the formation of the poultry industry.

“On behalf of the Pilgrim’s team, we offer our sincere condolences to the friends and family of Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim,” said Lovette in a statement. “Today’s poultry industry was built on the foundation of men like Mr. Pilgrim. He was a true icon, and his loss will resonate throughout our company and our industry.”

Pilgrim partnered with his brother Aubrey, and his business partner, Pat Johns soon after the two bought a Pittsburg-based feed and seed business in 1946. The company grew to one of the world’s largest poultry producers and processors before filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2008 and emerging from bankruptcy in 2009. The company reached an agreement with Greeley, Colorado-based JBS USA, a subsidiary of São Paulo, Brazil-based JBS SA in 2009, to sell 64 percent of Pilgrim’s stock. JBS USA now controls 78.5 percent of its stock.

In the company’s infancy, it sold chicks and feed to many area farmers who would raise them, keeping some for their families’ needs and delivering the remaining grown chickens back to the Pilgrim’s. The company, then known as Farmer’s Feed and Seed was a pioneer in developing the vertically integrated business model that is widely used by today’s poultry industry.

The company expanded through acquisitions and in 1960 leased its first poultry processing operation in Mt. Pleasant, Texas. Six years later Aubrey Pilgrim died unexpectedly and Bo decided to forge ahead. 

In the ensuing years, the company was renamed twice, to Pilgrims Corp. and Pilgrim Industries Inc. In 1986 Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. became a publicly traded company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It went on to acquire a competitor, Atlanta-based Gold Kist in 2006, making Pilgrim’s the largest poultry producer in the world. 

Two years after becoming majority owned by JBS, Bill Lovette began serving as the company’s CEO, and still is today. Pilgrim’s has grown to an international poultry operation with approximately 40,000 employees, and production that topped 8.1 billion lbs. of poultry products in 2016 and nearly $8 billion in annual sales.

Pilgrim’s memorial service is scheduled for July 26 in Pittsburg, Texas. 

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