ANALYSIS - When it comes to industry drivers, increasing feed costs certainly isn't new, but the growing consumer interest in how chicken is raised is one that is shaping the way Cobb-Vantress does business.
Over the last five to six years, the industry has been seeing an increase in feed costs, which has kept Cobb-Vantress' focus on feed conversion, growth rate and yield, said to Mitch Abrahamsen, Senior Vice President of Research and Development at Cobb-Vantress.
"However, in the last few years, the industry has really been kind of caught off guard a little bit with some of the consumer interest in how the birds are raised and some of the issues around antibiotics that the consumers clearly have a strong opinion on," he said. "The government is stepping in a little bit, and the pull with our producers as to what do they have to do to meet those demands."
Those demands trickle back to Cobb-Vantress to provide the kind of bird that the consumer wants while still meeting the industry's need for profitability and sustainability.
"From an R&D perspective, we're being asked to do things we've never done before. It's easy for us to keep doing the same thing over and over again, and we'll keep moving forward in the same direction, but all of a sudden, the game is changing on us," he said. "Antibiotics are clearly going to be an issue for all of the production settings."
Removing antibiotics out of production means the birds will experience more pathogens that they're not used to seeing, and they'll need to deal with stress a little differently, he noted. There's renewed interest in the environmental impact of production and energy use and cost.
"We have to think about how do we bring technologies into our breeding program that allow us to select for a different kind of bird. We've made some significant investments in genomic technologies, that provide an opportunity to think about how do we bring data into our pedigree program that we didn't have access to before, as well as, technologies that measure different performance traits that people are interested in," he said.
Cobb-Vantress has made significant investments in different types of scientists to participate in their R&D program, as well as, computer programming and databases needed to manage huge data sets. With their current genomics technology, Cobb-Vantress captures 60,000 data points from a single bird.
"When you start talking about our breeding program with millions of birds in it, we've got data that we've never had to deal with before, and that's going to provide us the opportunity to really tackle these challenges and to give our customers a product that will continue to be productive in the marketplace, and hopefully meet the demands that the consumer is starting to put on our industry," he said.
Cobb-Vantress is prepared to look at the marketplace with a new lens, including new technology and new people.
"We really need to design a bird for the future that's going to be different than what we have today," Mr Abrahamsen said.