Unless you are a history nerd like me, you may have never looked into the history of the American poultry industry. While large integrators like Tyson and Perdue have seemingly been running the show forever, it has really only been in the last 50 years that the “highly efficient, vertically integrated, progressive success story” has played itself out. The National Chicken Council has put together a timeline, so I’ll just hit the high points below.
As with most food, poultry started out as a backyard crop. It wasn’t until the 1920s that we began growing broiler chickens, solely intended to be sold, and that was only in areas where weather and supplies were favorable.
By the end of World War 2, vertically integrated companies were the new norm. This provided easier access to pharmaceuticals and technologies which in turn made the industry more profitable. It wasn’t long after that we started seeing chickens with brand names sole in stores. Even though there have been numerous mergers over the years, we’d still recognize some of the brands today.
Finally, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that chicken passed both beef and pork as America’s most consumed meat. It still holds that distinction today.