November 26, 2014

A look back at the Butterball merger

As families gather around their Thanksgiving tables this year, there's a good chance the turkey was produced by the Butterball company. There's a possibility the cook even called the Butterball hotline, which helps guide struggling home chefs conquer the ultimate challenge: roasting a whole turkey without undercooking it, or drying it out. 

In the spirit of the holiday, as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade approaches and Americans brace themselves for uncomfortable chats with their in-laws, we look back at Butterball's merger with Carolina Turkeys, which closed for $325 million in 2006. That year, the two poultry giants merged to become the largest turkey producer in the United States. In this case, Carolina Turkeys acquired Butterball, and quickly assumed its name. 

This is just one example of how brand recognition can be the key to a successful merger. Everyone knows Butterball, and the brand has enmeshed itself inseparably from the Thanksgiving holiday. By providing a high level of customer support and even nostalgia surrounding the holiday tradition, the company counts on the support of customers year-round as the go-to name for buying birds. 

"With the purchase of Butterball, we can immediately trim 10 years off the brand-building process and jumpstart our expansion efforts with the world's most revered turkey brand," said Keith Shoemaker, who was named CEO upon closing the merger. Shoemaker later resigned in 2011. "And although Carolina Turkeys will surely benefit from this acquisition, the primary beneficiary is our customer. Now we can offer customers the convenience and cost-savings of purchasing the best turkey brand and best commodity product from one single source."

In total, the merged company was slated to produce 20 percent of all turkey produced in the United States, combining the market shares of two major producers under the umbrella of a single unified brand.