Perdue Chicken buys sustainable meat pioneer Niman Ranch

ALAMEDA, Calif. (KTVU) -- The nation's third largest chicken producer on Friday bought up one of the Bay Area's pioneering brands of sustainable, free-range meats, Niman Ranch.
The deal was announced Friday that Perdue will purchase Natural Food Holdings which includes the well-known Niman Ranch brand of meats based in Alameda. The private equity firm LNK Partners, which owns Natural Food Holdings, will received an undisclosed amount for the sale.
In the Bay Area, people take their food seriously and the Niman Ranch brand has gained popularity throughout the region and United States. Niman Ranch was founded in the early 1970's and has since grown to more than 700 family farms and ranches nationwide.
The company was founded with a focus on producing sustainable, free-range natural meats at a time when consumers increasingly began demanding such products.
"I have the single bacon cheeseburger. I'm a big burger fan." said Orlando Nguyen of San Francisco, who was attending a food truck event Friday night.
"I do try to stay away from meats that are chemically processed," said Erica Lei of San Francisco.
"Usually grass-fed is important. Usually lean meat," said Mary Brown, a registered nurse.
Now some people worry whether Niman Ranch will remain the same under Perdue.
Mark Coopersmith, a senior fellow at UC Berkeley's Haas Business School says that's because Niman Ranch had been purchased by a private equity firm.
"The moment you've got private equity and professional investors in any business but especially in a business like this, you know they're going to be looking for an exit. Perdue just happened to be that exit," Coopersmith said.
In a news release Friday Perdue says that Niman Ranch will remain independent and maintain the same standards for its traditional production of pork, beef, lamb, eggs, and processed meats.
That's something other large companies have said in similar acquisitions such as Hershey's purchase of Berkeley's Scharffenberger chocolates. Heineken made a similar promise this week when it bought a 50 percent stake in craft brewer Lagunitas.
It's the latest in a string of large companies looking for a position in the artisan and health food trends by swallowing up smaller food producers. Some experts say consumers could see more acquisitions in the future and more money flowing into the specialty food industry.
"The opportunities will continue to exist for people who want to create artisan foods of all types, but for those that are creating their own companies and then are seeking capital to grow those companies, that capital may be more readily available now than it was before," Coopersmith said.
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