And the Protein Winner is...Chicken!

Wayne-Sanderson Farms

Protein choices in today’s marketplace boggle the minds of many consumers. So many choices…meat, plant, cultured. And so many claims:  "healthier," "tastier," "more versatile"—the list goes on and on. The array of protein formats in today’s retail and foodservice marketplace makes it difficult for foodservice and restaurant operators to zero in on a consumer lineup that will keep bringing in the customers. Today’s consumers are able to make selections based on a variety of very specific factors that are important to them—health, nutrition, dietetic requirements, taste and texture, appearance, even rearing and processing practices.

With so much to choose from, it might be reasonable to think that chicken could eventually be toppled as the consumer favorite. But the market trends experts at Mintel say the nation’s palates don’t lie. Looking back at 2022, chicken has once again won the protein wars… and it continues to enjoy top billing as America’s favorite meat by a wide margin. In fact, National Chicken Council consumer research estimates that about 97 billion pounds of chicken will have been consumed by the end of this year. So while you’re thinking about adding something exotic or unique to your bill of fare, don’t even think about taking chicken off the menu…Whether in -home, in the restaurant, or on the retail shelves, this bird is still a consumer favorite.

How much do US consumers like chicken? Well, if market sales data and new product launches are any measure—and they are—then fresh chicken dominates as category leader. In the last five years, producers and retailers have launched no less than 759 new chicken products. One prevailing retail trend is that convenience is king, with 561 cooked products versus 198 ready-to-cook products hitting the shelves.

Breaking all that chicken down into consumable intel, consumers still preferred white meat over dark meat at 65 percent. Post-purchase consumer research from Mintel lays out the key drivers of purchase behavior. Not surprisingly, purchase intent around consumption tangibles like good value and taste were the primary motivators noted by consumers at more than 80 percent. Decisions to purchase poultry products were less driven by what could be termed "marketing intangibles". Things like fun/exciting packaging and claims like all natural or environmentally-friendly, while still significant factors, fall much lower in the decision matrix at less than 50 percent. Claims relating to preparation and ingredients also impacted purchase intent, with microwavable, ease of use, gluten-free, and hormone free claims driving retail purchases for just under 40 percent of consumers. Recent National Chicken Council research roughly parallels Mintel’s analysis; specific attributes like freshness and price also rate as top consumer purchase decision factors at 34 and 27 percent, respectively, in the NCC consumer survey. So no matter how you slice it, US appetites have spoken—chicken stays on the menu!