Niman Ranch, a pioneer in the sustainable meat industry that claims to work with the largest number of family farmers in the country, is being bought by Perdue, the nation’s third-largest chicken producer.
Perdue’s move, announced Tuesday night, is part of a larger trend among large American meat companies as well as restaurants to offer antibiotic-free and humanely raised meat, citing customer demand.
Perdue is purchasing Niman Ranch from LMK Partners, a private-equity firm, as part of a group called Natural Food Holdings. The price was not made public.
Jeff Tripician, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of Niman Ranch, said the company will operate as an independent unit and that its staff, animal treatment protocols and farmer contracts will remain the same. Jim Purdue, Perdue Farms chairman, agreed in a release.
€œJim Perdue has an exceptionally long-term investment mind-set,€ said Tripician, who has been happy with what the company has done with other sustainable meat companies like Rocky’s Chicken (Petaluma Poultry) and Coleman Natural Foods.
Niman Ranch has built a reputation for its humane treatment of animals, antibiotic-free and vegetarian-fed meat and fair farmer contracts. It was sold to a private-equity firm in 2006, then another in 2011.
€œNiman’s pork program has really been a model in taking the principal of sustainability, which includes the farmers who raise the animals €” and creating an economically viable platform that can allow them to survive and indeed go national,€ said Barry Estabrook, author of €œPig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat.€
Estabroook, who visited hog farms across the country, including Niman Ranch’s, was €œworried€ by the news of Perdue’s purchase.
€œOne of the real key key aspects of Niman Ranch’s business model was that it took really good care of the farmers who sold the meat under its label,€ he said, adding that the company’s premium prices have helped many younger pork farmers to get into and stay in farming.
Local rancher Jeanne McCormack was €œstunned€ to hear that the pioneering meat company, which had its start in Bolinas in the 1970s, had been sold to Perdue. McCormack, whose grandfather founded her family ranch in 1896, is concerned that Perdue, which has been criticized for its treatment of chickens, won’t keep up those standards.
€œThis is devastating for us,€ said McCormack, whose family farm in Rio Vista has supplied pasture-raised lamb to Niman Ranch since 1992. €œOur continued participation in the sheep industry depends on our being with Niman.€
€œWill they continue to maintain and oversee the adherence to the Niman Ranch protocols, which is incredibly important?€ she said.
Last year, Perdue announced that it had stopped using antibiotics in its chicken hatcheries, and producers Tyson and Foster Farms have made similar announcements. In May, Hormel purchased Applegate Natural & Organic Meats. Chipotle €” to whom Niman Ranch supplies pork €” and McDonald’s also now serve antibiotic-free meats, and on Wednesday, McDonald’s also announced that it would transition to using all cage-free eggs over the next decade.
The move is driven by consumers, said Ronald Plain, professor of Agricultural Economics at the University of Missouri.
€œIt’s not the companies that are driving it. It’s more of a trend in consumer preferences that makes the news when food companies announce it,€ said Plain. €œThere has been a shift in consumer buying habits toward products that are more €œnatural,€ which can mean free range, pasture raised, antibiotic free.€
Niman Ranch was founded by Bill Niman, who joined with Iowa pork producer Paul Willis in the 1995. Though Niman is no longer involved in the company, Willis is still there, and Tripician says he will stay.
posted by Andrea Gonzalez 9/11/15