Consumers are fickle, and nobody knows that better than protein producers. The latest example is the shift away from that chicken sandwich standard – white, or breast meat. It seems after years of worrying about too much fat, people started noticing they weren’t getting too much flavor either. The result is booming sales of thighs and drumsticks, while breast meat falters.
I don’t have much control over what shows up on our plates, but Jan has long preferred chicken thighs for cooking. They were better portion-sized for us compared to what have become enormous chunks of chicken breasts. Plus, in my opinion, the leftover drumsticks served cold still had flavor and was not as dry as breasts.
Chicken breeders had performed miraculous feats of genetic manipulation to produce birds that were almost too top heavy. And while chicken has always been popular because of cost, years ago thighs were almost free compared to breasts. Notice the price spread between breasts and thighs had gotten as high as $1.20, but while varying wildly, is gradually approaching parity. I remember years ago when we virtually dumped leg quarters on the Russian market to get rid of them.
When you add in the boom in chicken wings – which are now often the most expensive part of the bird, chicken breeders have their work cut out for them again. They have shown remarkable agility to breed to meet the market, and with a faster turnaround time than other species will undoubtedly be putting what consumers want in the grocery case and on the restaurant menu. Still you have to wonder what a chicken designed to maximize wings and thighs would look like. Nobody expects breast meat to disappear, however. Suddenly it is not too valuable to be in chicken nuggets or fingers, for examples. Regardless it is clear chicken has become the meat of choice, or at least the most formidable economic force in the protein market.
Still, the test will be finicky three-year-olds and consumers still focused on fat. Maybe because we are eating so much chicken, we’re finally beginning to notice the flavor. I can even see a new marketing campaign on the way: Chicken – the other dark meat.
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