Popular Poultry
By Pat Dando
Chicken’s star continues to rise.
With the bountiful benefits associated with chicken, it’s no surprise that we’re consuming more of it.
In 2002, total meat consumption (red meat, poultry and fish) amounted to 200 pounds per person, 23 pounds above the level in 1970. Americans consumed, on average, 18 pounds less red meat (mostly less beef) than in 1970, 37 pounds more poultry, and four more pounds of fish. (Visit www.usda.gov for more information.)  
Chicken consumption more than doubled between 1970 and 2004, from 27.4 pounds per person to 59.2 pounds (boneless, edible weight). Chicken and beef are constantly battling for market share and chicken seems to be winning.
Chicken consumption has climbed since the 1940s, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service’s most recent per capita food availability data. Part of the rise in chicken consumption is a result of the chicken industry’s response to demands by consumers and foodservice operators for value-added, brand name and convenience products.
According to the National Chicken Council, 42 percent of chicken is now sold through foodservice outlets. Of that amount, 60 percent is sold through fast-food chains, which have introduced new lines of chicken sandwiches, salads, wraps and tenders to meet rising consumer demand.
About the only fast food menu that doesn’t include chicken is In-N-Out Burger. McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets revolutionized chicken as both a convenience and a frozen food in the early 1980s. Almost every foodservice outlet with a children’s menu has some form of fried chicken finger food, including fingers, strips, nuggets, etc.
McDonald’s has had great success with its premium chicken selections and views the meat as potentially representing $1 billion in sales growth over the next three years. Between salads and sandwiches, consumers seem more than willing to pay a premium for improved quality. Burger King and Wendy’s are definitely monitoring and reacting to this trend. The Associated Press reports that these two chains, No. 2 and No. 3 behind McDonald’s, outsell the leader’s premium chicken sandwiches. McDonald’s has already announced plans to introduce a chicken strip wrapped in a tortilla very soon and is testing a Southern-style chicken biscuit item. The tortilla should be excellent for “dashboard dining.” Fast food’s reputation as “road food” is a key for any player; McDonald’s reports that nearly two-thirds of its business is via its drive-thru lanes.
Arby’s, long noted for its beef sandwiches, recently introduced Chicken Naturals, made with 100 percent all-natural chicken. The chicken will be served in all of the restaurant’s sandwiches, wraps, salads and tenders.
“All-natural” is defined by USDA as “minimally processed products containing no artificial color or added ingredients.” Arby’s chicken breasts are not altered or injected with added water, salt or phosphates. Panera and Chipotle also use all-natural chicken. “Free-range,” “organic” and “Amish” are other USDA designations that are popular in more upscale restaurants. As consumers become more discriminating about what they eat, we’ll see more detailed identifications on chicken, not unlike what happened with beef.
Chicken is likely to sway any of the “no” votes in a group decision. If you don’t want red meat, you’ll go for chicken. If you don’t like fish, chicken is a viable option. No matter what kind of operation, from QSR to fine dining, chicken is a contender and usually constitutes a significant portion of the menu.
Mintel Menu Insights, a quarterly survey of 350 foodservice chain menus along with 150 independents, recently released its 2005–2006 first quarter comparisons. The most popular chicken preparation is termed “breast,”due to menu language, but most are likely grilled, sautéed or broiled.
According to Chef Andrew Hunter of Recipe Development Merchandising Solutions in San Francisco, “Chicken is America’s meat.
“Whole muscle meat is definitely preferred in the United States. Legs and thighs are popular in other parts of the world, but breast meat is definitely preferred here,” he says.
According to Hunter, the umami quality in all chicken dishes will definitely win favor. “Sauces need to combine three to five flavors in a single dish. A single-flavor focus will lose every time. You want to avoid flavors that are too high in heat level or salt content. Balance is very important.”
Hunter cites crusted preparation of chicken or other center-of-the-plate items as a current hot trend. Crust is much lighter than breading and is perceived as “healthier” by most consumers. Crusts prepared with nuts offer a nice crunch, and since they’re promoted as “heart healthy,” many operators are finding chicken breasts encrusted with almonds, for example, a real customer draw.
Another area that deserves attention, according to Bill Roenigk, senior vice president of the National Chicken Council, are various cuts/forms of chicken being used in foodservice. He feels that there is a subtle movement toward partially ground chicken. “Turkey burgers have become reasonably popular and there is no reason that chicken burgers shouldn’t be on menus.”
Another area that Roenigk sees potential for is gourmet chicken sausage. “It has made some inroads in supermarkets and there is no reason it can’t expand in foodservice,” he says.  NP
Ruling the roost
• is cost efficient for operators
• is widely available in myriad shapes or forms; is easily sourced
• enjoys almost total consumer acceptability
• is perceived as being healthy
• is perceived as being low in calories
• is relatively flavor neutral
• takes on the flavor of sauces or spices used with it
• can be baked, fried, poached, sautéed, roasted, etc.
• tastes good, regardless of the preparation method
Top 20 preparations of chicken Q1-05 and Q1-06
Preparation of Ingredient Q1 2005 Q1 2006 Total sample
Breast 2137 2342 4479
Grilled 1954 2170 4124
Fried 1175 1336 2511
Marinated 530 555 1085
Finger-Cut 505 578 1083
Wing 370 399 769
Breaded 358 379 737
Sautéed 331 374 705
Strip 330 331 661
Boneless 286 292 578
Sliced 240 268 508
Shredded 133 194 327
Roasted 158 164 322
Chopped 147 153 300
Blackened 121 145 266
Baked 136 130 266
Fajita 129 131 260
Stir-Fried 125 132 257
Char-Broiled 107 134 241
Piece 120 119 239
Total Sample 8268 9018 17286
Source: Mintel Menu Insights

Mintel’s analysis of cuisines illustrates popular perception: Chicken is an all-American foodservice staple. It is also an important ingredient in most popular ethnic dishes. Italian and Mexican dishes regularly focus on chicken. From curry to cilantro, chicken is an effective flavor carrier.

Cuisine types of chicken dishes Q1-05 - Q1-06
Preparation of Ingredient Q1 2005 Q1 2006 Total sample
North America - Traditional American 3188 3466 6654
Mediterranean - Italian 1892 1978 3870
Mexican 1042 1211 2253
Asian - Chinese 616 714 1330
North America - Southwestern/Tex-Mex 549 547 1096
Asian - Pan-Asian 252 260 512
North America - BBQ 177 212 389
Asian - Japanese 91 111 202
North America - Cajun 90 76 166
Asian - Thai 72 93 165
Mediterranean - Greek 64 85 149
North America - Southern 47 44 91
Caribbean 31 44 75
North America - Hawaiian 34 36 70
Mediterranean - French 18 29 47
Caribbean - Jamaican 19 15 34
Fusion 16 11 27
North America - California 10 11 21
Indian 5 5 10
Mediterranean 1 8 9
Total Sample 8227 8970 17197
Source: Mintel Menu Insights