FROM PANDEMIC TO PURPOSE – How COVID-19 Changed the Poultry Industry


The year 2020 has undoubtedly brought about many changes and challenges not only for the poultry industry, but for the world. Initially, the new decade was anticipated with positivity and hope, but no expert could have predicted the unprecedented challenges the majority of the year would have in store.

Since February, the world has been battling an invisible enemy, better known as the coronavirus or COVID-19. Unlike battles before it, the individuals on the front line of this battle were our nation’s health care, truck drivers, utility and food providers responsible for caring for and feeding us in our time of need.

At Sanderson Farms, we have over 18,000 of those heroes that we are blessed to call our employees. For the past nine months, those heroes have worked tirelessly to help feed our nation amidst unprecedented challenges. While most of the nation watched from the comfort of their homes with the company of their families, our heroes went to work to ensure those families had food on their tables when they needed it most. For this reason and many more, our employees are true heroes at work.

Because of their sacrifice to keep America’s families fed, we spared no expense or effort to keep our employees safe so that they could return home to their families each day. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we believed it was our responsibility to provide our employees with the safest working environment possible, and that commitment has not wavered despite our circumstances.

Without concern for the impact on profits, Sanderson Farms invested millions of dollars and countless hours in protecting our employees and communities from COVID-19 through a variety of measures that include continuous anti-viral cleaning of our facilities, social distancing measures in employee break rooms, additional outdoor break room seating, partitions for work and common areas within our facilities, hand sanitizing stations and optimized facility ventilation. Facility safety improvements also included opening on-site clinics providing employees and new hires with complimentary COVID-19 and flu testing, as well as flu vaccinations.

In some cases where community infection rates were high, we implemented facility-wide COVID-19 testing to ensure the safety of our employees. We also provided paid time off for affected employees and offered a weekly attendance bonus to hourly employees who worked all scheduled hours during the week. As a company operating in an industry considered essential by the federal government, our poultry processing lines never stopped operating during COVID-19.

In addition to our commitment to keeping our facilities safe from COVID-19, we also invested in ensuring our employees’ safety from COVID-19 by instituting automated employee temperature screening, providing employee training on safe work practices and good hygiene, as well as providing company-issued face masks and face shields for employees. While keeping our employees safe was important, we also wanted to ensure we provided resources to keep their families safe as well by providing face masks and hand sanitizer supplies for their families.

Before COVID-19 became a threat to our company footprint, Sanderson Farms formed a special team of senior managers, including our chairman of the board and chief executive officer, president and chief operating officer and chief financial officer, to coordinate our response to the crisis in consultation with outside experts in infectious disease and epidemiology. The response team met twice daily, and now once per day, to discuss COVID-19 developments in our company and the communities in which we operate. In addition, our board of directors met virtually each week for the first few months of the crisis, and later approximately every other week, to receive updates from our executive leadership and oversee the company’s response to COVID-19.

While the pandemic brought about many new challenges in our day-to-day routines, it has renewed our sense of purpose, the purpose of feeding a hungry world when it’s needed most. Challenging times often have a way of reminding us of how much we truly have to be grateful for, including basic needs such as food on the table, our jobs and the ability to provide for our families.

Perhaps the most important lesson of 2020 is that companies must be more nimble, prepared, future-thinking and adaptable to change than ever before. Our board and management team have risen to the challenge to protect the interests of our many stakeholders and the long-term value of our company during this time of crisis. We believe our core values and culture, our conservative financial management and our best-in-class operational efficiency provide the foundation we need to manage our business sustainably through the challenges of 2020 and beyond.

While we have yet to emerge victorious from this modern-day battle known as COVID-19, we are hopeful that a victory is still in sight. Until then, we will continue fighting the good fight and providing the world with affordable, nutritious and sustainable poultry products when they need them most.