NEW YORK — Citing strong consumer demand, Tyson Foods has announced that all of its Tyson-brand fresh chicken products will be produced from birds raised without the use of antibiotics. In addition, the nation's largest meat company expects to convert its Deli Rotisserie and Marinated Raw Breaded products to antibiotic-free production beginning in July, and its individually quick frozen chicken products by August.
“While we have great confidence in the quality of our traditional chicken, we are also committed to providing mainstream consumers with the kind of products they want,” Richard Bond, president and chief executive officer of the Springdale, Ark.-based company, said at a press conference here. “According to consumer research, 91% of consumers agree that it's important to have fresh chicken raised without antibiotics.”
Consumer desire to avoid foods raised with antibiotics has been one of the primary factors driving the mainstream growth of the organic meat industry, as well as several “all-natural” brands that make antibiotic-free claims. But the small scale of these operations has kept prices for these products prohibitively high for many shoppers.
Although he declined to discuss specific figures, Dave Hogberg, Tyson's senior vice president, Fresh Meal Solutions, noted that the changes will increase production costs at Tyson and will raise the price shoppers pay for the products at retail.
However, a recent custom research study by Tyson indicated that consumer purchase intent for the antibiotic-free products was equal to purchase intent for conventional fresh chicken products, even at a premium of 80 cents per pound. Hogberg said that the actual retail price increase will be much lower than that.
“Our decision to market chicken raised without antibiotics fulfills an unmet consumer need for this benefit at a reasonable price,” he said.
The new products began shipping to retailers nationwide last week, with packaging that emphasizes “100% All Natural” and “Raised Without Antibiotics” claims. The antibiotic-free claim will also be highlighted in the company's $70 million “Thank You” themed marketing campaign.
“Some major brands and small regional players have approached the natural segment as a niche,” Hogberg said. “These competitors offer an unknown brand, or a set brand at a high price premium, and don't devote the marketing support to communicate the product benefits to the consumer. Tyson is taking raised-without-antibiotics chicken mainstream.”
Although there is little direct evidence linking the use of antibiotics in animal feed to recent increases in antibiotic-resistant pathogens, many medical professionals argue that there is likely a link. Dr. Lisa Hark, director of the Nutrition Education Program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, said at the press conference that antibiotic-free chicken is part of the answer to “a pressing public health problem.”
“Tyson is doing the right thing,” she said. “As the mother of two young children, and with my long-standing career in the medical field, I've become very aware of the use and overuse of antibiotics. According to the Centers for Disease Control … over the last decade, almost every type of bacteria has become stronger and less responsive to antibiotic therapy. For this reason, antibiotic resistance is among the CDC's top concerns.”