Pilgrim’s Pride, the second-largest chicken producer in the United States, has become the first company to plead guilty for its role in a conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids in the broiler chicken industry and will pay a $108 million criminal fine, the Department of Justice announced Feb. 23.
The settlement entered with Pilgrim’s—which is majority owned by Brazilian meat producer JBS—is the result of an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price-fixing, bid rigging, and other anticompetitive conduct in the broiler chicken industry.
Pilgrim’s participation in price-fixing took place from as early as 2012 through at least 2017 and affected at least $361 million in the company’s sales of broiler chicken products, according to the plea agreement. Some of the largest customers of Pilgrim’s include wholesaler Costco and fast-food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken.
In addition to the criminal fine, Pilgrim’s on Jan. 11 announced it reached a $75 million related settlement in a class-action lawsuit with its direct purchasers, including restaurant chains, supermarket operators, and food distributors. In a statement, Pilgrim’s said it “does not admit any liability for the claims” but said “it believes a settlement was in the best interests of the company and its shareholders.”
A week later, Tyson Foods announced it agreed to a tentative $221.5 million settlement with its direct purchasers. The settlement is subject to approval by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois; if approved, it would be the largest settlement surrounding the price-fixing and bid-rigging conspiracy.
To date, the Department of Justice has indicted 10 executives in the industry for their role in the conspiracy, including Jayson Penn, Pilgrim’s former chief executive; Roger Austin, its former vice president; and William Lovette, who preceded Penn as CEO. A couple of Tyson employees have also been indicted. All have pleaded not guilty.