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Chicken consumption grows during pandemic

Chicken is a staple protein in many households—and demand remains strong as consumers continue flocking to poultry products during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a recent survey conducted by the National Chicken Council, half of Americans who eat chicken said they’ve eaten it more than any other protein during the pandemic.

“I’m not surprised chicken is the most popular, given that so many more people are dining at home and are looking for convenient meals or taking time to prepare meals from scratch,” Tony Banks, senior assistant director of agriculture, development and innovation for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation said. “Chicken fits the needs very well.”

The survey found that during the past nine months retail chicken sales have risen $1.3 billion, up almost 20% from the same time last year. Three-quarters of poultry-consuming Americans said they prepare it at home at least once a week.

“It’s probably the most readily available, low-cost protein source,” Bob Threewitts, who raises broiler chickens in Rockingham County and serves on the VFBF Poultry Advisory Committee, said.

Threewitts said that, combined with its low cost, the variety of chicken products gives consumers plenty of options. And “you can prepare it so many ways,” he said.

It’s good news, he added, that retail demand is robust, especially after some initial uncertainty among producers when restaurants shuttered in the early months of the pandemic. Threewitts and other producers quickly shifted to accommodate the changing environment—switching from the restaurant market to focus on the retail grocery market.

“We’ve found the company we grow for is anxious for all the meat they can get,” he said. “Now they’re taking all we can grow.”

Banks noted that chicken consumption is expected to continue rising. U.S. annual per capita chicken consumption is around 95 pounds, about 65% greater than the next most-consumed protein—beef. By 2029, it’s expected to exceed 96 pounds.

Banks and Threewitts agree that while home consumption of chicken is helping poultry companies and growers, they’re ready for restaurant markets to rebound.

“It doesn’t get them out the woods yet,” Banks said. “I expect people purchase more chicken per meal when dining out than when dining at home. The sooner we can get back to normal routines, post-COVID-19, the better for everyone and the economy.”