Chicken Price Differential Investigated

NEW ZEALAND - Consumer organisations are concerned about the high prices being charged for some chickens, and are asking for more information to justify the prices charged to shoppers.
calendar icon 11 May 2009
clock icon 4 minute read

At $32, is this New Zealand's most expensive chook? A survey in the Herald on Sunday of New Zealand on 10 May has revealed huge variances in the price of a whole, fresh chicken – from $10.60 to the whopping $32.

Consumer watchdogs are concerned about the price disparities and want clearer information as to why the more expensive free-range and organic chickens are dearer.

The most expensive fresh chicken was a size 14 Heuvels Free Range Organic Chicken, bought from Farro Food Store in Mt Wellington, Auckland, for $31.99. The cheapest was a size 16 fresh Pam's chicken, bought for $10.60 from Pak'n Save.

Statistics New Zealand figures show the average price of a whole, frozen chicken has jumped from $5.39 to $8.47 since January 2006. It does not keep numbers for fresh, whole chickens.

Belinda Allan, research manager for Consumer NZ, said guidelines would be beneficial in helping consumers justify spending upwards of $30 on a chicken.

Michael Brooks, executive director of the Poultry Industry Association New Zealand, said it was more expensive to produce organic, free-range poultry, mainly because of their feed.

"The feed for a free-range chicken will cover around 60 to 70 per cent of the overall cost, and that includes grain, amino acids, vitamins, and soy components," he said. "The cost of grain has risen substantially in the past few years, and there are very few places that manufacture organic feed. It's an incredibly niche market."

The remainder of the cost would go towards longer growing times for a free-range chicken, electricity for controlled indoor temperatures and water supply. There were also higher land costs so the chicken could roam freely.

Mr Brooks told the Herald on Sunday that the association was putting together a list of guidelines for growing free-range chicken, and was looking into the possibility of certifying free-range products.

Currently, there are minimal standards farmers must follow under the Animal Welfare Act, but Mr Brooks acknowledged people wanted more detail on where their food had originated.

"It is difficult to come up with guidelines that keep everyone happy," said Mr Brooks. "People assume that chickens are cooped up in small spaces being sold as free-range but that's not the case."

Farro store manager, Michal Haines, said the Heuvels chicken was one of the more expensive brands available but the price was justified by the free-range and organic factors.

"It's totally because they are organic, which is completely different from the stuff you get from your standard Tegel chicken," she said.

Nosh manager, James Patterson, said there was a lack of understanding surrounding types of chicken, and those priced upwards of $20 – which were organic and free-range – did not sell well. Nosh sells a Turks free-range, corn-fed, whole chicken for $17.99.

Mr Patterson said he would like to see stronger government regulations for labelling chickens as free-range.

Consumer taste test

Most expensive does not always mean tastiest, according to a blind test carried out by Herald on Sunday.

The newspaper asked five people to try four birds: a $10.60 Pam's chicken from Pak'nSave; a $14 pre-roasted Tegel chook from Foodtown; an $18 Turks free-range corn-fed example; and a $32 Heuvels organic version.

Three picked the Pam's bird as their favourite, and two put the Heuvels at the top. Alex Spence said the Pam's product was 'more tender'.

Her boyfriend, Mike Jewell, picked the same one. Claire Starkey and Rachel Middleton chose the Heuvuls chicken saying the skin tasted 'crunchier'. All five enjoyed the pre-roasted chicken for its convenience. The consensus on Turks was that it was "good, but not great", reports Herald on Sunday.

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