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The company was founded by Earl B. Olson in 1940, when he began raising turkeys. In 1949, he bought the former Farmers Produce Company of Willmar and its turkey processing plant. In 1953, it was renamed to Jennie-O after his daughter, Jennifer Olson.
The company continued to expand over the years, both by internal growth and through buying similar processing companies. It was widely known for producing turkey products that simulated other meats, such as turkey hot dogs, turkey ham, turkey pastrami, etc. It is now one of the two largest turkey processing companies in the US. (The other is Cargill, also from Minnesota.)
The company was privately owned by the Olson family until 1986, when it was sold to Hormel Foods, of Austin, Minnesota. Earl Olson remained active as an adviser and consultant to the company, being in the office nearly daily until his death from cancer on December 11, 2006, at age 91.
In February 2001, these two major turkey industries, Jennie-O Foods, Inc., and The Turkey Store Company, consolidated under the company Hormel to create the brand Jennie-O Turkey Store. This new name has become the label for the company, and now only the Jennie-O Turkey Store logo appears on their products, instead of simply Jennie-O. It is still commonly referred to as Jennie-O, since the shorter name is more commonly used by the public.
Jennie-O has a total of six company locations, five of which are in Minnesota and one in Wisconsin. The Minnesota locations include Willmar/Spicer, Faribault, Montevideo, Pelican Rapids, and Melrose. The only Wisconsin plant is found in Barron.
In March and April 2011, Jennie-O recalled almost 55,000 pounds of turkey burgers because drug-resistant salmonella was found in its products. There were twelve of these cases reported across ten states. The burgers affected were only sold at Sam's Club stores. People were told to avoid eating these products and to cook their turkey products carefully to get rid of the chance of salmonella.