If you read the New York Times lately, listen to National Public Radio or read Christopher Leonard’s book, “The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business,” you might get a very warped impression of the U.S. chicken business. To set the record straight there is no takeover of the U.S. poultry business by the top chicken companies. Far from it ... competition in the U.S. broiler industry is not just alive and well, it is thriving.
Check out the March 2014 Top Poultry Companies issue of WATT PoultryUSA for the poultry industry rankings that prove that. U.S. chicken industry consolidation is occurring, but it is slow and uniform. Share of production in the U.S. broiler industry is consolidating slowly among large, medium-size and smaller producers. The Top Poultry Companies issue shows that from 2003 through 2013, share held by the top three firms fell slightly and rose most among firms ranked No. 6 through 10. Rankings also are available for the U.S. turkey industry.
Leonard’s book says that consolidation in the meat industry is greater than before the Great Depression. That fact obscures the real story. Consolidation in the chicken business has increased only slowly for decades now.
Furthermore, the assertion in the book’s subtitle that there is some “secret takeover” is laughable. Not only are the largest producers public companies subject to public scrutiny, they are in a fierce competition for customers and profitability.
The poultry industry has not accrued undue profits over the decades. My economist friends who crunch the numbers say that real profitability over the long-term has been embarrassingly meager. Meantime, the meat and poultry industries have kept meat and poultry prices remarkably low over the past half century.