The nation's third-largest chicken company, Perdue, is buying up sustainable meat industry pioneer Niman Ranch from LMK Partners, a private-equity firm, making it part of a group called Natural Food Holdings. The SF Chronicle, NY Times, and others reported on the sale although the price hasn't been made public. Niman is among the largest pastured pig operations in the country and supplies such fast-food industry businesses as Chipotle.

As customers increasingly demand antibiotic-free, humanely raised meat, Perdue is chasing that market. “The customers they have are in a lot of ways different than the customer we have, so it brings in an additional customer base to Perdue,” said Jim Perdue, company CEO and grandson of its founder. “They’re big in the food service and restaurant business while we’re doing a lot more in the retail market, so we think there’s a good fit there.”

Food writer Barry Estabrook registered concern over the sale while praising Niman. "Niman’s pork program has really been a model in taking the principal of sustainability, which includes the farmers who raise the animals — and creating an economically viable platform that can allow them to survive and indeed go national.”

"We absolutely can learn from them in that area,” Mr. Perdue said of Niman's emphasis on sustainability. “I think they can bring us a lot of new ideas, especially in the sow production side of the business.”

Niman Ranch's chief marketing officer Jeff Tripician says the company will maintain its independence and with it, its high standards. But, as Consumerist notes, the company has been almost desperately replying to customer questions on its Facebook page, emphasizing that it is “still dedicated to its commitment to the strict animal welfare protocols” that guide the way its animals are raised... We always strive to give our farmers the stability they need to continue the sustainable practices we all believe in, and we hope to continue to prove that to you in the future.”

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