US consumers buy chicken for versatility, value, variety

91 percent of US consumers have purchased chicken at the grocery store in the past six months.

23 July 2019, at 10:19am

Chicken purchasers cite more positive attributes than purchasers of beef, pork, fish and plant-based meat proteins, according to new research presented at the 2019 Chicken Marketing Summit.

The National Chicken Council (NCC) and WATT Global Media presented the results of a study that explored the drivers for grocery purchases of chicken compared to other meat and plant-based proteins. IRI provided supporting data from its retail databases. The study was commissioned by the NCC and conducted online by IRI July 1-10, 2019, among 780 adults. Funding was provided by Elanco, WATT Global Media, NCC and Meyn. A full copy is available by clicking here.

Chicken checks more boxes

Buyers were asked about attributes in eight categories: taste, health, versatility, family appeal, value for price, natural/organic/absence of negative (hormones, antibiotics), sustainable and convenient.

Chicken buyers choose it for 7 of 8 of these attributes.

All meat buyers are driven by taste, yet taste is a less important driver for the plant-based consumers. Fish is purchased for health and convenience reasons.

Consumers of chicken, beef, pork and fish reported that their trust in the overall safety, quality and nutrition of these meats has not changed. While 15 percent of chicken consumers say their trust in chicken has increased, 55 percent of plant-based meat consumers say their trust in that protein has increased.

Top trends driving and disrupting meat

Chris DuBois, senior vice president and principal, IRI, and Joyce Neth, vice president, director of audience development and research, WATT Global Media, presented data supporting these four trends:

  • Convenience and simplification
  • Sustainability
  • Protein growth
  • Ecommerce and new technologies

Convenience: Chicken is an all-around winner on the majority of preparation-related attributes. All protein types are perceived as easy-to-prepare. More traditional meats (chicken, beef, pork) show advantage in family appeal and tradition (grew up eating it), while the plant-based protein advantages lie in safety, preparation ease and the cleanliness aspect of preparation.

Sustainability: Plant-based consumers show the strongest drive from sustainability. “Recent NCC research shows that half (49 percent) of survey participants indicated a willingness to eat more chicken if they learned it is more sustainable than other meats or meat substitutes,” according to Tom Super, NCC senior vice president of communications, “which shows that most people aren’t familiar with chicken’s sustainability story.”

Protein growth: Across the store, products with protein claims have grown 9 percent, with frozen meals leading the way.

New technologies: Smart speakers, retail robots and endless aisles through ecommerce are changing the customer experience. Retail-as-a-service will change the supply chain for retailers.

Future consumption intent

Less than 2 percent of chicken consumers intend to consume less chicken in the next 6 months. While the future consumption intent is steady for the traditional meat proteins, both fish- and plant-based meat shows more positive consumption intent, with 23 percent of fish and 44 percent of plant-based consumers planning to consume more of those proteins in the next six months.

Chicken Marketing Summit attendees were encouraged to “deliver on higher emotional attributes” to increase chicken consumption among those already buying chicken. Neth explained that the research found that humanely-raised, sustainable and satisfying had a higher correlation to increased consumption than more practical attributes of better value, taste and easy to store.

Plant-based meat awareness and purchase intent

When it comes to plant-based meat, DuBois said, “It’s meat and these products, not or,” showing data that grocery trips where meat substitutes are purchased are four times more likely to include meat.

Only about 16 percent of total protein buyers buy plant-based meat/meat blend alternatives, yet the majority (67 percent) of those who haven’t purchased these types of protein alternatives are aware of such products.

Of total meat buyers, 44 percent are open to giving plant-based meat/meat blends a chance, and 14 percent of total meat buyers will purchase it in the next six months.

Current estimates show plant-based meats at 2 percent retail sales of the total retail meat sales of $50 billion.

In the US, the consumption of chicken has grown more than 300 percent since 1960, outperforming all other major proteins. At 94 pounds per capita, chicken consumption is nearly twice that of beef and pork. Chicken outpaced pork in 1984 and surpassed beef as America’s favorite meat in 1991