The Big Four Meatpackers

by Emilene Ostlind

About 35 million cattle are slaughtered in the U.S. annually by 60 major beef-packing operations processing around 26 billion pounds of beef. Four firms control over 80 percent of all the beef slaughtered.

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Tyson Foods Springdale, Ark.

Daily slaughter capacity 28,700

U.S. market share 25 percent

Beef sales $12.7 billion

Company overview
Tyson bought the world’s largest supplier of premium beef and pork products, IBP Inc., in 2001. It’s the second-largest pork and chicken packer in the U.S. and sells its products in 90 countries.

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Cargill Meat Solutions Corp. Wichita, Kan.

Daily slaughter capacity 29,000

U.S. market share
21 percent

Beef sales
Cargill Meat Solutions would not release this data. Its parent company, Cargill Inc., reported $88.3 billion in sales in 2009.

Company overview
Cargill Meat Solutions is one of 75 businesses under Cargill Inc., the largest privately-held corporation in the United States. Cargill  runs the biggest flour-milling company in the world, is a leading corn syrup and soybean processor, and has cocoa and chocolate operations on four continents. It employs 131,000 people in 66 countries, including Canada, Mexico and China.

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JBS USA Greeley, Colo.

Daily slaughter capacity
28,600

U.S. market share 18.5 percent

Beef sales $9.2 billion

Company overview
JBS USA bought Swift (the-third largest packer) in 2007, then bought Smithfield (the fifth-largest packer and largest U.S. feedlot owner) in 2008, then bought Pilgrim’s Pride, the largest chicken processor, in 2009. The company tried to buy National Beef Packing Co. in 2008, but the U.S. Department of Justice opposed the acquisition. The parent company, Brazil-based JBS S.A., is the largest beef packer in the world, with 54 processing plants on four continents.

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National Beef Packing Co., LLC Kansas City, Mo.

Daily slaughter capacity 14,000

U.S. market share 10.5 percent

Beef sales
$5.4 billion

Company overview
National Beef started as a single plant in Kansas in 1992. Its other main product is leather.

Sources: All numbers are for 2009. Slaughter capacity from “Feedstuffs” 2011 Reference Issue and Buyers Guide. Market share and beef sales from A Value Chain Analysis of the U.S. Beef and Dairy Industries, Center on Globalization Governance and Competitiveness, Duke University. Market share numbers for the four companies add up to 75 percent in the Duke report, although the more commonly used figure is 81 percent. Numbers differ due to varying sources used to collect this data, which is not reported by the USDA.

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