Reaching the Broiling Point

By Lynn Petrak
Special Projects Editor
Chicken consumption continues to climb in an unusually strong marketplace.
There’s a lot of clucking going on in the chicken business these days. And it’s good news for those involved in the processing and marketing of broilers.
Recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data relays per capita chicken consumption is expected to reach an all-time high of 86.8 pounds for 2004. While that statistic alone would be welcomed by the industry, it is even more significant due to other market factors.
Economics 101 says that if you want consumption to go up, prices have to come down, but this year prices are going up, reports William Roenigk, vice president for the Washington, DC-based National Chicken Council (NCC), adding that variation abounds, including the impact from a spillover of even higher prices for beef and pork and a strong enough demand to offset increased feed costs.
Paul Aho, principal of Poultry Perspective, Storrs, CT, also speaks to the peculiarities of the operating climate confronting the industry. “It’s been a good market for the poultry producers this year — unusually good, after some very bad years,” he says, agreeing with the assessment that higher prices for other proteins may benefit chicken marketing strategies. The gradual resumption of exports to Russia, although tempered by concerns over avian influenza and decreased demand from other overseas markets like China, has also had a positive impact, he adds.
The low-carb factor
As for demand drivers, the continued popularity of low-carbohydrate diets can’t be denied. “Consumers are influenced by those diets and it makes it okay to eat meat again. When they look at meat, they think, ‘I’m not sure what all this exactly means, so I will be both low-carb and low-fat’ and they’ll look at chicken,” Roenigk offers.
Growth in certain product types spell opportunity in the chicken category. As Roenigk points out, processors have indicated rising demand for boneless, skinless breast strips, for both retail and foodservice. Aho pinpoints to a renewed interest in dark meat. “What surprised me has been the demand for dark meat leg quarters. Some of it must be price, with a substitution effect, but more of it is being used domestically, in Asian and other ethnic restaurants,” he notes.
New product development also continues, especially in the value-added arena. For example, Salisbury, MD-based Perdue Farms launched new case-ready chicken tenders, wings, and nuggets for the deli service case, while Springdale, AR-based Tyson Foods added roasted drumsticks and boneless skinless breasts to its fully cooked Heat ‘N Eat chicken line.
Meanwhile, marketers at Fredericksburg, PA-based B.C. Natural Chicken notice that consumer interest in natural chicken has moved beyond niche status. “It’s not a tidal wave, but there is a very strong river of people concerned about what they are eating,” says Bob Salegna, senior vice president of sales and marketing. This summer, B.C. Natural Chicken introduced a new line of Lakeville Growers Organic Chicken, the company’s first national organic brand to be marketed in “conventional” supermarkets.