Trendspotting — Cut Preferences May Change, but Poultry Popularity Continues to Climb
Versatile, tasty and a popular protein that can be found in every cuisine and culture around the world. Yep, we’re talking about chicken again!
With changing consumer tastes and preferences and varying supply and price trends over the last two years, the way people purchase and prepare chicken is evolving. Lucky for us “poultry people,” consumers all have a wide range of options to choose from when it comes to chicken, and operators have just as much leeway in prioritizing menu selections. Everyone loves chicken, so there’s hardly a wrong choice for the center of any plate, at home or in the restaurant. Poultry is still the most consumed protein in the U.S., and that long-running popularity shows no signs of ebbing.
Chicken thighs – Chicken thigh demand is on the upswing — these tasty cuts are becoming even more popular due to their rich, dark meat and moist texture. They are perfect for slow-cooking, grilling or roasting, and are a great addition to stews, soups and curries. Low pricing of chicken thighs is also contributing to their rise to fame this year as purse strings continue to get tighter around the U.S.
Chicken breasts – Once the premium-priced cut, breast meat is now affordably priced and is perhaps the most versatile cut of all — popular on home chef and operator menus alike. Chicken breasts can be grilled, baked, fried or roasted, and can be featured center of plate or used as a primary ingredient in a variety of dishes. From soups, stews and casseroles to salads, sandwiches and stir-fry, chicken breasts adapt to virtually any cuisine. Quick to cook, lean and rich in protein, white meat cuts made up over 60% of consumer purchases in the last six months.
Chicken wings – Although demand is somewhat flat compared to the last couple of years, overall consumption volume continues to climb year over year. Make no mistake, true wing lovers will not accept substitutes. No longer an appetizer or “bar food,” chicken wings are a staple on virtually every operator’s menu. As a snack or a meal, wings can be fried, baked or grilled, and they come in a variety of flavors and sauces.
Chicken tenders – Tender demand is up and climbing, and the “why” is obvious. Conveniently sized for cooking and hand-held dining, tenders are easy to prepare, easy to eat, kid-friendly and play well with virtually every side on the menu. Every gym rat’s go-to selection, tenders are a wholesome, lean and high-protein American favorite that can be grilled, fried, roasted or sauteed … there’s no wrong way!
The popularity of these cuts of chicken can be attributed to several factors. Lean cuts are versatile and their soft flavor pairs with nearly any dish, making them a great choice for health-conscious consumers. Dark meat cuts like thighs are flavorful with higher fat content and moisture that brings a hearty and comforting richness to any entree. Cuts like wings and tenders are grilling favorites — perfect to pair with sauces, and an excellent choice for afterschool snacks that pack a satisfying protein punch.
We know that chicken will be on the menu in some capacity, so how can operators take advantage of ever-changing trends around cuts of chicken? One way is to offer chicken as a substitute or addition to dishes. Consider swapping out beef or pork for chicken in dishes like burgers, sandwiches and salads, or offering up the alternative. Many times, consumers don’t know the alternatives, so showcasing healthy, flavorful and light options to their favorite menu items is a great way to incorporate more chicken into your menu.
Looking ahead, we can expect to see some new trends in how consumers purchase chicken products. One trend that is expected to continue (with a 43% increase in purchase intent this year alone) is the demand for organic and antibiotic-free chicken. Consumers are becoming more conscious of what they are putting in their bodies and are willing to pay more for high-quality, natural products. Another trend that is expected to steadily increase in popularity is the use of sous-vide cooking for chicken with “exciting, fun and refreshing” as major indicators of purchase intent, along with “fully-cooked options” leading in many studies.
Finally, we can expect to see more interest in spices and flavors from different parts of the world. Consumers are becoming more adventurous in their culinary tastes and are interested in trying new flavors and spices. We can expect to see more chicken dishes from Asia, Africa and the Middle East on menus in restaurants and in home kitchens. According to Mintel intelligence, over 500 new poultry products featuring bold, pre-flavored cuts have hit the market just this year alone, and we don’t see an end in sight.