70 years of Sanderson Farms: Homegrown company now a $3 billion powerhouse

Updated: Feb. 2, 2018 at 3:05 PM CST
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LAUREL, MS (WDAM) - Everybody in the Pine Belt knows Sanderson Farms chicken. You may buy it at the grocery store. You see the commercials on TV. But there's a lot more to this brand than you may know. We sat down with the chairman and CEO of Sanderson Farms for a conversation about this hometown company, how it started in 1947, and where it's going.

The headquarters of Sanderson Farms, tucked into a wooded campus on the west side of Laurel, is not the typical glass-and-steel corporate box. It's built largely of stone and wood, suggesting a sense of connection to the land from which this company has grown over the past seven decades.

"Laurel is our home. It's where the company started, that seed and feed store on Ash and Maple Street," said Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Joe Sanderson Jr., the third generation of his family to lead the company. "The founders, my grandfather and my father and my uncle, laid a very strong foundation."

Photographs of those humble beginnings are preserved in the library at the company headquarters. Some are proudly displayed on the company website.

Sanderson Farms just celebrated its 70th year with record sales of $3.3 billion. Of the 1000 largest companies in America listed by Fortune magazine, Sanderson Farms is the only one headquartered in Mississippi. It has operations in five states across the South, employing  15,000 people. It exports chicken to over 40 countries.

"The international market is very important to us," Joe Sanderson said. "Twenty percent of our production is exported out of the United States. In particular, Mexico is a very important market for us."

Sanderson Farms went public in 1987. Its stock trades on the Nasdaq exchange under the symbol SAFM. It has a market capitalization of almost $3 billion, but Mr. Sanderson said the company holds on to the core values of its founders who started it all with that Jones County farm supply store.

"We operate by those same principles today," Sanderson said. "Honesty, integrity, and hard work. Conservative in the way we manage the business financially. Serving our shareholders. Serving the communities where we operate."

Looking to the future, he sees new opportunity for this homegrown success.

"As the middle class evolves and develops all over the world, in the Pacific and Africa, they're going to need protein, and poultry will be part of that. And for Sanderson Farms we want to be part of that too. So we think the future is bright."

Sanderson Farms is the third-largest poultry producer in the United States. Last year it sold over 4 billion pounds of chicken.

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