- The demand for chicken has increased due to fast food sandwiches and the popularity of chicken wings.
- Storms in Texas and labor shortages have affected American chicken farms.
- Selling dark meat is a way for brands to make up for losses as prices rise.
Demand for chicken continues to rise as brands compete in the chicken sandwich war, but the meat has become more expensive. Experts are planning a simple solution to alleviate this likely temporary problem: Chains could start selling and promoting dark meat.
Chicken has become more expensive over the past year, although most of the attention has focused on the wings in particular. Consumption of chicken wings is up 17% from a year ago and that of breaded chicken by 15% over the same period, according to NPD data.
Chicken wings were a hit in 2020 and early 2021 as an almost “pandemic-proof” food – they travel well for take-out, and wing and pizza shops already had the delivery experience to maintain business without eating inside.
Big storms in Texas over the winter hit the US chicken supply hard in “major chicken-producing areas,” National Chicken Council spokesperson Tom Super told Insider. “It will take time and effort to eventually replace the supply flocks from the affected hatcheries in this region. “
The same labor shortage affecting restaurants is also hitting chicken farms. “Chicken wing farms in America are struggling to retain and recruit employees,” said Greg Duell, co-owner of Duff’s Famous Wings in Buffalo, NY.
“When that happens, they can’t process the birds fast enough, they have to feed them more, the feed costs have gone up, the birds are getting bigger and they can’t process them and take them out,” he said. .
Chicken sandwiches sold by Popeyes, Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s and other competitors are made with white meat fillets from chicken breasts. Chickens are the most eaten animal in the USA, and Americans overwhelmingly prefer white meat to dark meat. This preference has led the entire poultry industry to turn to raising chickens with more breast meat, and dark meat is often exported.
U.S. consumers are more familiar with wings and breaded sandwiches, but operators may consider offering different cuts of dark meat, including thighs, NDP analyst Darren Seifer told Insider. “We are a very white meat market, but the supply is decreasing,” he said.
While some companies may raise prices and others absorb the costs of purchasing more expensive chicken, selling dark meat could be a way to temporarily offset some losses.
A shift towards dark meat is already underway. Chicken wing chain Wingstop has just launched a thigh-focused virtual brand, Thighstop, Insider’s Nancy Luna reported. With a new use of thighs, the chain can buy whole chickens instead of separate pieces and save money, Wingstop CEO Charlie Morrison told Insider.
“We believe this can drastically reduce the total cost of these products because we are committed to the whole bird, not just the parts we need,” he said. Thighstop will sell boneless and boneless thighs mixed with classic Wingstop sauces, making the less typical dish more familiar to customers.
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