The CEO of the largest U.S. chicken company challenged his industry to stop depending so heavily on Russia as a market for chicken leg quarters and pick up the pace in diversifying markets and products for chicken dark meat.

Tyson Foods president and CEO Donnie Smith said, “I think the lesson we need to learn, as an industry, is to start believing the Russians when they say they want to be self-sufficient in poultry.”

He was responding to a question about what lessons the U.S. chicken industry should learn from a stoppage of U.S. chicken exports to Russia during the first nine months of 2010.

International and domestic diversification needed  

Smith said the U.S. chicken industry made progress recently in diversifying its customer mix around the world but needs more diversification internationally and domestically.

“We’ve been talking about and doing that diversification for years, and we had better listen to ourselves and continue to get that done,” he said.

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“Three years ago, the U.S. chicken quota for chicken exports to Russia was around 900 million metric tons, and we’re looking at 450 million metric tons now,” he said.

Listen online  

Hear a podcast of Smith’s comments and those of four other poultry industry executives in a question-and-answer session, which occurred at the National Chicken Council (NCC) annual meeting in Washington, D.C. The podcast is accessible online.

Also participating in the panel were Don Jackson, CEO, Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation; Mike Roberts, president, food products business, Perdue Farms; and Bill Lovette, president and COO, Case Foods.

The panelists discussed industry opportunities and challenges ranging from industry profitability and consolidation to proposed regulation under the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA).

Video interviews with panelists Don Jackson, Mike Roberts and Bill Lovette can also be viewed online.