In the 1940s Cagle’s was a mom-and-pop poultry shop in downtown Atlanta where customers could choose any live bird and wait until it was processed to order. Today, it is one of the top poultry producers in the world, selling more than 400 million pounds of chicken to supermarkets, food distributors, food-processing companies, fast-food chains, restaurants, and schools since its founding.
By 1945 the company’s founder, George L. Cagle, who had dabbled in the north Georgia egg and poultry industry, decided to open his own poultry shop. Armed with $8,000, Cagle opened a store in the Five Points area of downtown Atlanta, which catered to walk-in customers as well as to hotels, hospitals, and restaurants. On the first day, Cagle was the only employee. On the second day, he enlisted the services of his wife, Letty, and his teenaged son, J. Douglas, who today is the company’s chairman and chief executive officer. By the end of that first week, the trio had processed some 25,000 pounds of chicken, a fraction of the company’s output today.
As Cagle’s grew, George Cagle realized that personal service alone wouldn’t keep the company competitive. The business would have to own and raise the birds it was selling in order to cut down on costs to the middleman. Cagle bought Strain Farms in Forsyth first, which raised chicks into broilers. Cagle’s also built its own feed mill and hatchery, as well as two processing plants.
Cagle’s contractor-farmers have played a large part in the company’s growth by producing 2.6 million eggs each week for Cagle’s hatchery. Once the chicks are hatched, the farmers use the feed and any other assistance provided by Cagle’s to produce the best birds possible. The company’s rigid quality-control standards have also been important, guiding what it will and will not sell to its customers. Cagle’s inspectors ensure that sizing conforms to customer wants and that every piece is carefully deboned and free of bruises and blemishes.
Cagle’s products have changed as consumers’ needs have changed. As more and more women headed into the workplace, Cagle’s began selling chicken that was cut up and sold in individually frozen pieces, which could be easily thawed and cooked. The company also sold individually frozen pieces that had been breaded and marinated, which were targeted for busy families or singles. Fast-food companies in search of consistent chicken nuggets turned to Cagle’s for ready-to-cook pieces that could be prepared with the same result each time.
In 2004 Cagle’s was the 114th-ranked publicly traded company in Georgia, with more than $300 million in revenue. The Cagle family still manages the company and owns more than 60 percent of its stock.