CEO of iconic American company with a product on China's tariff list not worried

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Key Points
  • Perdue Farms CEO Randy Day isn't alarmed by talk of an escalating trade war with China or the fact the company sells pork targeted in new tariffs.
  • Day insists more time is needed to see how the trade situation with China plays out.
  • He also said the bulk of the company's business is domestic, not foreign sales.
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Perdue Farms CEO Randy Day isn't losing sleep over the trade spat with China, despite the fact the poultry giant also sells U.S. pork hit by new tariffs.

"We believe in free and fair trade but the reality is we don't know how this is going to turn out," Day said Monday in an exclusive interview on CNBC's Closing Bell. "We're not overly concerned yet. We need to wait and see how it plays [out]."

The Maryland-based company's pork products include the Coleman Natural and Niman Ranch brands. The Niman Ranch brand has a history of supplying products to leading restaurants, including Chipotle Mexican Grill.

Randy Day, CEO, Perdue Farms
Source: Perdue Farms

Effective April 1, China slapped a new 25 percent tariff on U.S. pork imports and more than 100 other products. But so far poultry hasn't been put on the targeted list.

"Export is important to us but it's a relatively small part of what we do," said Day. "The bulk of our business is domestic."

Perdue Farms, with annual revenue of about $6.6 billion and more than 20,000 employees, is a family-owned company.

Day was appointed CEO in March 2017 and is only the fourth CEO in the iconic company's nearly 100-year history. Previously, he was COO of the Perdue Farms.

Day described Perdue as a "small pork producer" and said the company has one operation in Iowa. "Our vision is to be the most trusted in premium proteins. So we're not a huge business, but everything we do is premium."

A Moody's Investor Service report released Monday said "smaller U.S. pork producers will bear the brunt of potential pork tariffs." However, it said the ones that will especially feel it are the "producers that lack value-added sales to offset the effects of falling pork prices."

Day said Perdue's consumers are focused on "the high-end products," adding that everything the company raises — from pork to poultry — is done with a focus of "no antibiotics-ever."

Meantime, the CEO also spoke about the company's core poultry business and challenges facing the organic side. Perdue Farms is the largest producer of organic chicken in the nation.

Last week, the company announced plans to invest $42 million to expand a cooked chicken products plant in Georgia.

"Organic food is growing in the marketplace much faster — maybe 12 times faster than conventional," said Day. "But chicken is not. The reason is because it's too expensive."

According to Day, the company is on a "journey" to make it more affordable for consumers to buy organic chicken. "Food that's good for you shouldn't be out of reach of the average person," he said.

The executive said feed is one of the big reasons for the higher price of the organic poultry products, so he said Perdue Farms is focusing on getting the cost of livestock feed down.

"It's really going to be a focus on the supply chain, taking costs out and improving the logistics," Day said.