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
Chicken…
• 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 IngredientQ1 2005Q1 2006 Total sample
Breast213723424479
Grilled195421704124
Fried117513362511
Marinated5305551085
Finger-Cut5055781083
Wing370399769
Breaded358379737
Sautéed331374705
Strip330331661
Boneless286292578
Sliced240268508
Shredded133194327
Roasted158164322
Chopped147153300
Blackened121145266
Baked136130266
Fajita129131260
Stir-Fried125132257
Char-Broiled107134241
Piece120119239
Total Sample8268901817286
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 IngredientQ1 2005Q1 2006 Total sample
North America - Traditional American318834666654
Mediterranean - Italian189219783870
Mexican104212112253
Asian - Chinese6167141330
North America - Southwestern/Tex-Mex5495471096
Asian - Pan-Asian252260512
North America - BBQ177212389
Asian - Japanese91111202
North America - Cajun9076166
Asian - Thai7293165
Mediterranean - Greek6485149
North America - Southern474491
Caribbean314475
North America - Hawaiian343670
Mediterranean - French182947
Caribbean - Jamaican191534
Fusion161127
North America - California101121
Indian5510
Mediterranean189
Total Sample8227897017197
Source: Mintel Menu Insights