GREELEY, Colo. – Pilgrim's Pride Corp. first-quarter earnings were up 80 percent on improvements in gross margins.

The company reported net income of $98.1 million, or 38 cents per share for the quarter, compared to net income of 54.6 million, or 21 cents per share a year ago.

"Consistent with the progress we've made for the past three years, we remain committed to operational improvement year after year," said Bill Lovette, Pilgrim's CEO. "We continue to execute against our strategy that combines focusing on key customers, relentless pursuit of operational excellence and growing value added exports while rapidly adapting to changing market conditions.

Net sales for the quarter totaled $2.0 billion, while earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of $203.5 million. EBITDA for the comparable year-ago quarter was $116.9 million.

"Our teams continue to raise the standard and drive accountability deeper into the organization, from cost control through the implementation of zero-based budgets to gains in efficiency and superior mix management, providing us with a competitive advantage in the market," Lovette added.

"The strong results, combined with effective management of our working capital, have enabled us to pay off the balance of our exit credit facility, reducing our cost of capital and freeing up cash flow to support investments directed at growing our business,” he continued. “We already started our growth project in Mexico, and with a strong balance sheet, we are prepared to deploy resources where we see a complement to our existing portfolio.

"The current environment for the chicken industry indicates robust prospects for 2014, and with the improvements we've implemented, Pilgrim's is well positioned to reap the benefits," he concluded.