Gold Kist now Pilgrim's Pride

Published: Tuesday, January 9, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 8, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Suwannee County's largest employer has officially changed hands, according to a Pilgrim's Pride representative.

After two stock purchase offers, Pittsburg, Texas-based Pilgrim's Pride's $1.1 billion bid to buy Gold Kist is a done deal, according to Karla Harvil, spokeswoman of the former Gold Kist office in Atlanta.

Pilgrim's Pride acquired 89 percent of Gold Kist's shares in an initial stock purchase ending Dec. 27 and was up to 92 percent in a subsequent offer that ended 5 p.m. Friday. The remaining shares will be purchased without stockholder approval for the going rate of $21 a share as Gold Kist becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of Pilgrim's Pride.

The Associated Press reported Dec. 28 that the deal would be complete in early January, but Harvil said the company is calling Dec. 27 the official purchase date.

Gold Kist rejected Pilgrim's Pride's purchase offer in August, but agreed to a deal Dec. 3.

The former Gold Kist Florida Division in Live Oak employs 1,600 people at its processing plant, feed mill, hatchery and distribution centers, according to Gold Kist's Web site. It also contracts with 167 area chicken farmers. The plant provides chicken to Publix supermarkets in Florida.

A recorded message at the Live Oak plant greeted callers Monday with, "Thank you for calling Gold Kist, Live Oak, Florida" before a live receptionist said, "Good morning, Pilgrim's Pride."

Harvil said area jobs are secure with Pilgrim's Pride.

"From a local perspective, they do not tend to make any changes with personnel or anything like that," she said. "We expect no changes on the local level other than the name on the door."

Chicken farmer Walter Brown, who lives south of Live Oak, said farmers who have contracts with Gold Kist have not received official notice of the purchase, but he expects little to change.

"We're actually waiting to see if there's any change in the contract, which refers to price paid to growers for bird production. We are still running under the old Gold Kist contract at this time," Brown said.

The concern now, he said, is a seasonal slowdown in chicken purchases that is especially hard on farmers with mortgages on new buildings to accommodate the Suwannee plant's recent expansion. An eight-building chicken farm that produces more than 200,000 chickens costs $1.5 million to construct, he said.

Between harvesting and delivering new chicks is a 28-day turnaround. "We really need to be on a 12- to 14-day turnaround," he said.

Brown said Gold Kist pays farmers $12 million to $15 million a year and has a $30 million economic impact in the area.

"The poultry industry has been an economic boon for this part of the country," he said. "It provided an injection of revenue in this three- to four-county area around here that has definitely helped a lot of people."

"We're looking forward to what the future brings and are just eternally optimistic," Brown said. "I think that's the farmer's creed anyway."

Anthony Clark can be reached at anthony.clark@gvillesun. com or (352) 374-5094.

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