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Smart Chicken, the southeast Nebraska success story, has a new owner.

Tyson Foods, the U.S.'s largest meatpacker, announced Monday afternoon that it has bought Tecumseh Farms, the company that owns the air-chilled chicken brand.

Terms of the sale were not disclosed, but Tyson said it plans to operate Smart Chicken as a wholly owned subsidiary and retain its staff of about 600 people at plants in Tecumseh and Waverly, as well as live-chicken operations in southeast Nebraska.

“Consumers want choices. More and more consumers want options for fresh, organic food that fits their lifestyles,” Eric Schwartz, chief marketing officer of poultry for Tyson Foods, said in a news release. “The Smart Chicken brand is a leader in this key organic category, and the category’s growth makes this acquisition a strategic fit for Tyson Foods.”

According to Nielsen’s Perishables data, organic fresh chicken grew sales 8.6 percent from 2016 to 2017, more than four times the rate of conventional poultry. Tyson said Tecumseh Farms' processing capabilities and its focus on quality have given the Smart Chicken brand a leading position in the fresh chicken market, and make it a good complement to Tyson's existing organic brands, NatureRaised Farms and Aidells.

Kevin Siebert, president of Tecumseh Farms, said in the news release that Tyson brings the resources to help the company grow and make the Smart Chicken brand even stronger.

Smart Chicken is sold in thousands of stores in nearly all 50 states. Among the retailers that carry it locally are Hy-Vee, Super Saver, Russ's Market, Leon's Gourmet Grocer and A Street Market. The company also sells directly on its website.

“This is a well-run company with a solid customer base that’s earned consumer loyalty. We’re excited for Tecumseh to continue to produce quality chicken while providing the business the scale and resources it needs to continue growing,” Doug Ramsey, group president of poultry for Tyson Foods, said in the news release.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Tecumseh Farms was expected to earn about $40 million this year on a projected $170 million in sales.

Tecumseh Farms got its start as MBA Poultry in 1998 after Indiana businessman Mark Haskins and a group of investors bought the shuttered Campbell Soup plant in Tecumseh in 1998.

The early years of the business were rough. In 2000, the company went through bankruptcy and the plant closed for a few months.

MBA Poultry eventually found its footing and started to flourish. In 2005, the company announced plans to build a new headquarters, processing, packaging and distribution facility in Waverly, which opened the following year.

Haskins retired and left the business in 2008.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.

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Business editor/reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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