America’s Growing Appetite for Chicken Fueled by Lifestyle, Foodservice Choices

America’s growing appetite for chicken has been fueled largely by a fast-paced lifestyle favoring tasty and nutritious food that is quick and easy to prepare, according to the chairman of the National Chicken Council, the chicken industry’s trade association.

Today’s hectic lifestyle, in which people have less time to plan and cook the main meal, has benefited chicken, Tom Shelton said, since it is quick and easy to prepare and hard to ruin.

“The average American family of four will put more than 200 pounds of chicken in the grocery cart this year,” an amount that has steadily increased in recent years, Shelton told a seminar for food writers here. “The death of home cooking has been greatly exaggerated.”

“People still prepare most of their meals at home, but spend less time doing it,” Shelton said. “As a result, the definition of cooking itself is changing from scratch cooking to meal assembly. The objective is to put a tasty and nutritious meal on the table, and chicken fills the bill perfectly,” he said.

The chicken industry provides consumers with an array of convenience-oriented products available in grocery stores, including partially and fully prepared individual items and entrees, both fresh and frozen, and deboned fresh chicken, both dark and white meat, he said.

Chicken is also a major player in the carry-home market, with such items as whole rotisserie-roasted chickens that consumers can buy fully cooked and take home for dinner, he said.

Turning to chicken sold outside the grocery channel, Shelton said chicken choices in restaurants are continuing to diversify. “Chicken is the most versatile food at the center of the plate and easily adapts to a wide variety of presentations,” he said.

Research data shows that Caesar salad with chicken is the single most prevalent chicken item sold at restaurants in the United States, with 66 percent of restaurants putting Caesar salad with chicken on the menu, Shelton said, citing a survey of restaurant operators by Restaurants & Institutions magazine.

Chicken strips and tenders are the second most-prevalent item, on the menu at 50 percent of all restaurants, followed by chicken noodle soup at 44 percent and grilled chicken breast sandwich at 43 percent. Chicken wings and grilled chicken breast are both on the menu at 39 percent of restaurants.

Chicken wings rocket to the top of the list when only casual dining restaurants are considered, however, with 66 percent of those establishments putting chicken wings on the menu, typically as an appetizer, Shelton said.

“The runaway success of chicken wings as appetizers has been a tremendous opportunity for our industry,” Shelton said. “We estimate that last year more than 18 billion chicken wing segments were sold in foodservice — about 60 wing pieces for every person in the United States.”

Chicken strips and tenders are the leading item at quick-service restaurants (QSRs), on the menu at 87 percent of those establishments, followed by grilled chicken breast sandwich at 82 percent and breaded chicken breast sandwich at 81 percent, he said. Chicken nuggets are on the menu at 61 percent of QSRs.

Shelton said that on a broader level, demand for chicken has continued to grow. Demand was especially strong last year due to the impact of low-carbohydrate diets, he said. Even when the diet fad faded in the middle of 2004, demand for chicken remained strong, he said, giving chicken companies a very good year.

“The current year has gotten off to a good start and is so far continuing to look like a strong year,” he said.

Shelton is CEO of Case Foods, Inc., a diversified chicken production and processing company. The National Chicken Council is the trade association based in Washington, D.C., for vertically integrated chicken companies. NCC member companies produce and process approximately 95 percent of the chicken sold in the United States.

Shelton spoke at a seminar just before the National Chicken Cooking Contest, a competition to be held here Friday, May 13, sponsored by NCC and the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association. USPOULTRY is a national organization that represents its members in all aspects of poultry and eggs on both a national and an international level. Its mission revolves around research, education, communication, and product promotion.

Sale of Chicken Through Retail Grocery,
Pounds Per Capita and Family of Four,
1990 — 2005 (estimated),
United States

1990 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003 2005
Per Capita 36.3 40.3 40.3 46.1 45.2 49.8 50.7
Family of Four 145.2 161.2 161.2 184.4 180.8 199.2 202.8
Source: National Chicken Council estimates based on USDA data

Survey of Chicken Items at Restaurants in the USA
Source: Restaurants & Institutions Magazine 2003 Menu Census
By Reed Research Group

Top Chicken Items at Restaurants
by percent of restaurants serving them

Caesar salad with chicken 66
Chicken strips/fingers/tenders 50
Chicken noodle soup 44
Grilled chicken breast sandwich 43
Grilled chicken breast 39
Chicken wings 39
Breaded chicken breast sandwich 31
Pasta with chicken 22
Broiled/grilled chicken 20
Nuggets 19

“Sales Strength” of Chicken Items
5 is strongest

Chicken strips/fingers/tenders 4.22
Grilled chicken breast sandwich 4.12
Breaded chicken breast sandwich 4.11
Pasta with chicken 4.09
Fried chicken 4.07
Caesar salad with chicken 3.99
Chicken nuggets 3.81
Rotisserie chicken 3.76
Chicken wings 3.59

Top Chicken Items at Casual Dining Restaurants USA
by percent of restaurants serving them

Chicken wings 66
Caesar salad with chicken 57
Chicken noodle soup 43
Grilled chicken breast 34
Chicken strips/fingers/tenders 34
Grilled chicken breast sandwich 24
Pasta with chicken 20
Oriental chicken salad 19
Broiled/grilled chicken 19
Stir fry chicken 15
Chicken salad 15
Breaded chicken patty sandwich 15

Top Chicken Items at Quick-Service Restaurants USA
by percent of restaurants serving them

Chicken strips/fingers/tenders 87
Grilled chicken breast sandwich 82
Breaded chicken breast sandwich 81
Caesar salad with chicken 69
Chicken nuggets 61

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Address media inquiries to: Tom Super

Senior Vice President of Communications

[email protected] 202-443-4130