US chicken heavyweight Pilgrim’s Pride has appointed Jayson Penn, current president of Pilgrim’s USA, as its new chief executive officer.

He will succeed Bill Lovette, who is retiring from the position of president and CEO of Pilgrim’s Pride, which is majority-owned by Brazilian meat giant JBS.

However, Lovette will remain available to provide strategic advisory services to the company until July 2020.   

Penn will have a brief to create higher margins for the business.

Gilberto Tomazoni, chairman of the company’s board of directors, said: “Jayson Penn has enjoyed a distinguished career in the poultry industry and has played an integral role in the success of Pilgrim’s over the last eight years.

“Since joining the company in March 2011, Jayson has exemplified the leadership qualities, passion to succeed and business acumen that make him the ideal candidate to assume this role.”

He said the Board’s decision is further validation of the Pilgrim’s strategy, implemented in 2012, to “create a unique, diversified portfolio across multiple geographies, with a focus on key customers and operational excellence, to generate more consistent and higher margins”.

He added: “Jayson has been at the forefront of this strategy and we are confident in his ability to continue to create shareholder value.”

Lovette was appointed president and CEO at Pilgrim’s Pride in January 2011 and, during his tenure, grew the business from US$6.9bn to $10.9bn in annual net revenue.

Penn, who will take up his new role immediately, said: “Pilgrim’s has been on a remarkable journey of growth, building a strong culture of empowerment and providing our customers and consumers with high quality, innovative solutions that allow them to thrive. We are a global team of more than 52,000, unified in mission and purpose, and I am excited to help guide our team in the next steps of our journey.

“I am extremely grateful to Bill for his mentorship, counsel and friendship. Working alongside Bill for these last eight years at Pilgrim’s has been the highlight of my career and his constant support, leadership by example and strong work ethic have made this seamless transition possible.”

Penn has more than 30 years of poultry industry experience, beginning in his family’s poultry company before joining Pilgrim’s in March 2011.

He has also served on the board of directors and the executive committee of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council and currently serves on the board and executive committee of the National Chicken Council and the board of directors of The World Poultry Foundation. 

Pilgrim’s Pride operates chicken processing plants and prepared-foods facilities in 14 US states, along with Puerto Rico, Mexico, the UK and continental Europe. In the UK it owns meat business Moy Park.