The Strategist

Fast-growing chickens scare consumers away

05/10/2016 - 15:12

In the last half-century, breeders have doubled weigh of a usual broiler chicken. Now, the birds are gaining weight twice as fast. For meat producers, this means cost reductions and faster profit. However now, companies such as chain stores Whole Foods Market and Starbucks coffee house chain rely on buyers willing to pay more for chicken that grow slower.

The growing demand for such meat reflects change of consumer attitudes to food and methods of their production. Modern people are willing to pay more and wait longer only to get more natural food. This decision concerns well-being of animals and peculiarity of the chicken’s taste, said Theo Weening, responsible for meat procurement at Whole Foods. According to Weening, he count on a marketing program, similar to the French Label Rouge. 

Meat of birds that grew slower and free-range can cost 20-200% more expensive than usual, according to the calculations of industry economists. "Most people do not want to lay out such amounts money for a chicken on their table," - notes Jerry Moye, director of Cobb-Vantress breeding company owned by Tyson Foods.

Three of the world giants - Aviagen, Cobb-Vantress and Hubbard (their crosses are used by most of chicken producers) say that they attach special importance to characteristics such as rapid weight gain during the bird selection. This, in turn, enables companies to reduce production costs, which makes poultry meat available to consumers. According to breeders, combination with other features, such as a stable cardiovascular system and skeleton, makes chickens healthier. In the past, the birds had heart attacks and deformed feet.

Thanks to the modern approach (to produce more kilograms of meat without spending tons of chickenfeed), poultry can achieve the global goal - to feed the growing world population. In 2016, the world may produce record 89.7 million tons of chicken meat, according to United States Department of Agriculture.

Companies such as Nestle and Bon Appetit Management, are pushing suppliers in some countries to avoid the recent advances of genetics. They fear that decades of breeding have led to illness, problems with muscles and stripped the meat of taste. As a result, manufacturers prefer to work with ‘healthier’ breeds. This is, for example, cross JA57, birds that grow at least 81 days, according to Hubbard. On the contrary, brown chickens Rowan Ranger from Aviagen grow about 56 days. 

Whole Foods expects that shift to fresh meat of slower-grown birds can take up to eight years. Now, sales of such birds are negligible - about 1-3% of the world's supply of chickens cross.

Largest companies in the field of genetics and poultry breeding, working with Tyson and Perdue Farms, do not see any prospects in the use of such cross-bred chickens. This would mean higher prices for consumers and excessive consumption of resources.