Chicken wins popularity on US foodservice menus in austere times, finds Mintel


Chicken looks to be making a resurgence on the foodservice scene at the expense of beef, according to latest research from Mintel. 

“In addition to the recent health-related issues surrounding beef, and the already high beef prices, we expect restaurants to start focusing their attention on other proteins,” said Kathy Hayden, foodservice analyst at Mintel.

“Steakhouses have been struggling in this rough economy and have tried to compensate by offering smaller cuts or more “surf and turf” options, but ultimately, chicken menu innovation is giving restaurant-goers a fresh and less expensive option while dining out.”

New data from Mintel Menu Insights shows the number of US menu items with poultry as an ingredient has climbed an average of 12% in the past three years and is expected to continue to increase in the next one to two years. The greatest growth has come from the casual dining segment followed by fast casual eateries.

Chicken fingers are the top poultry dish and have shown a 10% increase on menus from Q1 2009 to Q1 2012, dominating QSR  (Quick Service Restaurants) and family/midscale settings, due in large part to children’s menus and appetiser lists.

Buffalo wings continue to fly high in menu mentions, with a 19% increase in the same time frame. Where chicken sandwiches show a steep decline (-36%), chicken wraps are picking up the slack by increasing their menu mentions by 35%. Pizza is also jumping on the chicken bandwagon, with a 26% increase of chicken as a pizza topping.

The new trend of chicken snacks is also taking menus by storm, reports Mintel. From McDonald’s Chicken McBites to Whataburger’s new Whatachick’n Bites and White Castle’s Chicken Rings; snack-sized, dip-friendly chicken is a new part of the QSR roster. With so much competition, better quality (full-pieced, white-meat) chicken and distinct sauces are emerging as the ways to set one brand apart from the next.

“Chicken is a versatile ingredient,” said Hayden. “In the future, you can expect to see it used in more ways, from pulled chicken sandwiches and bowls to more home-styled meals, like pot pies and stews.”