Donald Helgeson

x2010 Agribusiness

With the majority of chicken companies headquartered in the southern and eastern U.S., Don Helgeson had the vision to take Gold’n Plump Poultry from a hatchery into the broiler chicken business—a concept that was almost unheard of in this part of the country with Minnesota’s harsh winters and hot, humid summers—making it the largest, most fully integrated chicken producer in the upper Midwest today.

In 1926, Helgeson’s father, E.M. Helgeson, founded St. Cloud Hatcheries, where Don started working at age 11, traying eggs. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Macalester College in St. Paul and pursuing graduate work in poultry science at the University of Minnesota, Don and his brother Jerry purchased the company from their father in the early 1950s.

Helgeson recognized early on that growing a successful poultry company and producing premium-quality products meant starting at the beginning of the process. To accomplish this, Helgeson developed a unique type of broiler/grower contract with local farmers that removed the market risk from them by providing fixed, guaranteed payments each month. This created both a steady cash flow and a stable, secure living for hundreds of local farm families—something farmers were not used to. At the same time, it helped Gold’n Plump Poultry better control product consistency and quality, which created an overall win-win partnership, setting the stage for lifelong and multi-generational relationships and long-term success.

Under Helgeson’s leadership, Gold’n Plump Poultry also has been recognized as an industry leader in using new technologies and methods, including automated chicken catching equipment; fixed-weight scannable packaging; applying date codes for fresh chicken products; and removing fat from fresh tray packs of chicken.

With almost 1,500 employees, 300 growers and local grain suppliers throughout rural Minnesota and Wisconsin who provide over 8 million bushels of corn and 75,000 tons of soybean meal annually, Helgeson’s leadership has clearly made a difference in the lives of many people.  Deeply committed to the community, Gold’n Plump Poultry has given 5% of its pre-tax earnings to charitable causes for over 20 years and Helgeson has been a philanthropic leader in central Minnesota supporting numerous arts, civic and educational organizations.