WASHINGTON -- Boneless, skinless chicken breast has continued to grow in popularity -- with 55% of consumers serving it, compared with 47% in 1995 -- and was rated the top cut of chicken by consumers, according to a recently released study, "Consumer Attitudes About and Usage of Chicken," commissioned by the National Broiler Council here.
Most retailers interviewed by SN agreed with the survey's assessments about the increasing popularity of chicken breast meat.
Russell Vernon, the owner of West Point Market, Akron, Ohio, said that more than 50% of his chicken sales were in one cut: skinless breast meat. "They stick pretty close to the breast," he said. He surmised the cut was so popular because "it's easy to prepare and fits in so many different recipes." He explained that breast's versatility allowed it to be used as a center-of-the-plate dish, tossed in salads or prepared with pasta.
Frank Milillo, a meat merchandiser at a Food Emporium store in Fort Lee, N.J., noted that although there was a lot of variety available in chicken, "we tend to sell a lot of boneless in different categories."
Along with breast meat, Dave Bennett, an owner of Mollie Stone's Markets, Palo Alto, Calif., also cited the popularity of whole chickens because of their price. He said he didn't believe that consumers considered variety to be as important as consistency at the chicken case. "The customer who gets tired of some cuts of chicken moves over to turkey," he reasoned.
The study said that the popularity of prepared chicken products, such as chicken patties and nonfrozen fried chicken, was also on the rise. The percentage of consumers serving these products at home in the past six months, according to the survey, rose to 33% from 27% for patties, and to 28% from 24% for fried chicken over the past two years.
West Point's Vernon noted that "the 45 and up age group is buying a lot of prepared baked chicken and our value-added chicken breast [program] has increased by 10% every year since the late 80s."
Food Emporium's Milillo agreed that prepared chicken products had grown more popular and partially attributed the increased interest to dual-income families' tendency "to go for something quick like a meal of rotisserie chicken."
The study also concluded that 77% of households have chicken at least once a week, a finding that most retailers interviewed by SN supported.
Food Emporium's Milillo said that at least 75% of his customers buy chicken once a week. West Point's Vernon estimated that the percentage of his customers who purchase chicken weekly was in the high 80s.
Mollie Stone's Bennett said the percentage of his customers who buy chicken weekly could well reach 100%. He added that "people who don't buy chicken have stocked up on it on ad and that may skew the percentage."
The NBC's study cited that the top reasons that respondents purchased chicken were because it tasted good (66%), was healthy (59%), versatile (57%), low in fat (55%), convenient (52%) and economical (51%).
Food Emporium's Milillo agreed with the survey's conclusions as to why consumers buy chicken, concurring that his customers were buying chicken because "everybody is health conscious and watching calories."
West Point's Vernon and Mollie Stone's Bennett both explained that one of the top reasons most of their customers bought chicken was its low fat content.
All the retailers SN interviewed strongly agreed with the study's conclusion that overall chicken consumption has increased.
The percentage of people serving chicken at home two or three times a week, according to the survey, is up to 42%, from 41% in 1995, and up from 39% back in 1991 and a six-year low of 37% in 1993.
"Chicken sales, based on tonnage, are up," noted Food Emporium's Milillo. He estimated that 40% to 45% of his meat tonnage was being done in poultry, compared with what used to be about 35% in 1991.
"Sales are up 10% to 15% over last year," said West Point's Vernon. Contrary to the 1993 dip in the survey's findings, he said that his poultry sales had been steadily on the rise since 1991 and may have increased as much as 50% over the past six years.
Mollie Stone's Bennett noted a 20% sales increase in his poultry sales in the past five years, which he attributed partially to the decline in consumption of red meat. He estimated that people who used to eat red meat three times a week may well have replaced two of those meals with chicken.
The study cited a variety of demographic patterns that may influence consumers' favorite ways to prepare chicken. Baked or roasted chicken (67%), which was found most popular among people over 50, was the most popular method of preparing chicken. It was followed by grilling or barbecuing (43%), favored by ages 25 to 64 with incomes of $40,000 or more; and frying (36%), preferred by 18- to 24-year-olds with incomes of less than $20,00. Broiling (30%), favored by consumers with $50,000-plus income, trailed the pack of cooking methods.
West Point's Vernon noted that his customers' favorite cooking methods varied seasonally. "Grilling in the summer and baking in the winter are the most popular methods."
Mollie Stone's Bennett concurred that both baking and roasting were very popular cooking methods.
The NBC's study, the fifth in a series, was conducted by telephone with 1,019 adults by Bruskin/Goldring Research of Edison, N.J., in February of 1997.