February 7, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Frank Perdue

Arthur Perdue was a Railway Express agent in the years after World War I who loved living on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Rather than accept a transfer away from Salisbury to another station Perdue quit his job. He built a small chicken coop and began raising 50 Leghorn chickens. Soon Perdue's eggs were showing up in produce markets in New York City and other eastern towns.

During the Depression Perdue's always slim profit margins tightened even further. He mixed his own feed and salvaged leather from his shoes to make hinges for the coops. Perdue stayed out of debt through the hard times and even made a little money. He took great pride in his eggs, never missing a chance to boast about their quality.

The Depression forged the Perdue business values which would foster further growth. He scrutinized costs and never borrowed money or took on partners, fearing an inability to pay and a loss of independence. By 1940 his flock had grown to 2000 Leghorns when the chickens were decimated by leukosis, a fast-spreading avian disease.

Perdue couldn't take the chance of another devastation in his barnyard and switched from eggs to chickens and bought 800 hardy New Hampshire Reds. With his broilers he needed new distribution outlets but World War II generated great demands for all farm products and soon Perdue was realizing his greatest profits to date.

Perdue hatched chicks by the thousands, raised on a special blend of feed superior to any on the market. He trucked his broilers to market in Selbyville, Delaware where they were snapped up by large meat packers like Armour and Swift.

In 1953 Perdue was selling $8 million of chickens each year and raising 2.6 million broilers when he turned the daily operations of the farm over to his 33-year old son Frank. The poultry business was changing completely in the 1950s. Chicken raising evolved from a labor intensive business into an automated one with a chick going from egg to store in eight weeks virtually untouched by human hands. Frank Perdue convinced his father to keep up with the radical changes and build a huge chicken processing complex in Salisbury.

The new plant opened in 1958 and company growth continued modestly until 1967 when Frank convinced his father to do the unthinkable - borrow $500,000 to expand into the New York retail chicken market. In a short time Perdue Farms was selling 800,000 broilers a week and advertising the new Perdue Farms chickens in a small way when Frank Perdue decided to expand again.

Account executives from his advertising agency came to visit the Perdue operation in Salisbury for ideas. They focused on the unique yellow color of Perdue chickens, which was achieved with marigold petals in the feed, as a way to distinguish Perdue chickens as meat of the highest quality.

One other thing caught their eye. As one adman would recall, "Frank was very, very involved in everything to do with his company. So we realized that what really set Perdue chickens apart from other chickens was Frank Perdue. He looked a little like a chicken himself and sounded a little like one. He squawked a lot."

They decided to use Frank Perdue as his own spokesman, one of the first executives to do his own commercials. Revenues jumped from $58,000,000 to $500,000,000 over the next decade. Other established packers leaped into the brand chicken market launching the "Great American Chicken War" in the mid-1980s but Perdue continued to take command, exceeding one billion dollars in annual sales.

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