Pilgrim's Pride grilled barbecue chicken leg quarters
Consumer demand for chicken makes poultry a competitive — and profitable — protein for Pilgrim's Pride.

GREELEY, Colo. – Pilgrim's Pride Corp. more than doubled its first quarter earnings as consumer demand for chicken continues on an upward trend.

Net income for the quarter ended March 29 reached $204.2 million, an improvement of 108 percent compared to the $98.1 million reported in the year-ago quarter.

“While we saw some softness in export markets, we believe these issues are temporary and will be resolved over time,” said Bill Lovette CEO. “Despite certain challenging market conditions for some cuts, overall cutout pricing has remained strong as consumer demands more chicken since it continues to be the most competitive protein.”

Pilgrim’s reported first quarter sales of $2.05 billion as compared to $2.02 billion for the same period in 2014. Adjusted earnings per share were $0.82 compared to $0.39 reported a year ago. EBITDA for the quarter was $363.5 million, an increase of 77 percent compared to the $205.5 million generated in the first quarter of 2014.

“Our strong results are a testament to the benefits of our portfolio model, which we believe provide superior results with lower volatility than our peers over time,” Lovette noted. “Our portfolio strategy also enables us to take advantage of differing conditions in various markets.”

Pilgrim’s has resisted the effects of market volatility due to its increasingly diverse product mix which includes leg meat deboning and large-bird deboning.

Another factor helping the company is zero-based budgeting which enabled the company to identify $200 million in cost savings for 2015 that wasn’t realized in 2014.

“We are continuing our work on zero based budgeting and are on track to capture the identified operational improvements for 2015, which will strengthen our competitive advantage,” Lovette said.

Pilgrim’s Pride, a unit of JBS SA, recently announced plans to eliminate antibiotics from 25 percent of the company's poultry production by the end of 2018. Lovette said the company has invested in alternatives such as probiotics to improve gut health in chickens.