Chicken a Consistent Growth Vehicle for Most Processors

Chicken has been a consistent 5% annual growth vehicle for most processors.

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

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Promising Americans prosperity in 1920, President Herbert Hoover used the campaign slogan, "A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage." When mom wants to put a tasty and nutritious meal on the table, chicken fills the bill perfectly. It's tasty and nutritious, economical and easy to cook.

In fact, most of the chicken Americans eat is still cooked and eaten at home; some 58 percent is purchased at grocery stores, club stores, and other retail outlets for home preparation and consumption. "Clearly, the death of home cooking has been greatly exaggerated," says Tom Shelton, chairman and CEO of Case Foods, a poultry processor based in Salisbury, Md., and former chairman of the National Chicken Council, Washington.

Chicken consumption has grown steadily over the past few years. "In 2004, the average family of four put more than 200 lbs. of chicken in their grocery cart, compared to 145 lbs. in 1990," says Shelton. "We estimate American consumers this year will purchase approximately 26 billion lbs. of chicken - an amazing 87 lbs. for every man, woman and child in the U.S," and nearly twice as much per person as in 1977.

For busy multitasking Americans, mealtime has gotten caught in a squeeze. "People still prepare most of their meals at home, but spend less time doing it," explains Shelton. "Younger people in particular are much less likely to start a meal from scratch the way their mothers did.

"Our industry has responded with a wide variety of convenience-oriented products, and tht is one reason why demand for chicken has continued to grow," he continues. "We are providing more partially and fully prepared individual items and entrees than ever before, both fresh and frozen. We are also adding more convenience through deboning of both dark and white meat, marinating, sizing and packaging."

Chicken is a major player in the carry-home market, with items such as rotisserie chicken at the forefront. Today, about half the total food dollar is spent outside the home, ranging from fast food, school cafeterias and other institutions to the finest white-tablecloth restaurants. And out-of-home dining has been very good for the chicken business.

At quick-service restaurants - defined as fast food and other places with counter service - chicken strips and tenders are the No. 1 item on the menu in 87 percent of those establishments. Not far behind are grilled chicken breast sandwiches (82 percent), breaded chicken breast sandwiches (81 percent), and chicken nuggets (61 percent).

Interestingly, "Caesar salad with chicken is the No. 1 chicken item ordered at U.S. restaurants," says Shelton. He estimates two-thirds of restaurants of all types have Caesar salad with chicken on the menu. According to Harry Balzer at NPD Group, during the 12 months ending in February 2005, restaurant orders of all types were up only 2 percent, but orders for Caesar salad with chicken were up 9 percent.

Chicken strips and tenders are the second most-prevalent item, on the menu at 50 percent of all restaurants, followed by chicken noodle soup (44 percent), grilled chicken breast sandwich (43 percent) and chicken wings and grilled chicken breast (39 percent). Some 66 percent of casual dining restaurants, such as Chili's, TGI Friday's and Olive Garden, have chicken wings on the menu, typically served as an appetizer.

"The runaway success of chicken wings as appetizers has been a tremendous opportunity for our industry," says Shelton. "We estimate that in 2004, more than 18 billion chicken wing segments were sold in foodservice - about 60 wing pieces for every person in the U.S."


U.S. Chicken Consumption
Year Production Total
(million lbs.)
Per Capita/Retail (lbs.)
1993 22,178 68.4
1997 27,271 71.9
2001 31,266 76.6
2005* 35,125 85.8
*Forecast Source: USDA / Economic Research Service  
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