A survey of chicken eating behavior in U.S. households by the National Chicken Council showed that purchase frequency and market penetration dropped in 2012, with the biggest slippage occurring in chicken purchased from foodservice restaurants. 

Conducted among 1,015 households June 4-5 for the preceding two weeks, the survey was funded by WATT PoultryUSA magazine. The results were presented at the 2012 Chicken Marketing Seminar. 

Chicken’s slippage in purchasing frequency and household share comes after these consumption indicators reached 10-year highs in 2011. The 2012 survey showed lower chicken eating frequency for heavy users and a rise in the number of non-eaters. 

Shopping behavior for boneless-skinless chicken breasts and tenders, also measured in the survey, showed price playing an important role in purchasing during the two-week survey period. 

Consumer survey points to market opportunities   

The survey points to opportunities for poultry producers in marketing, sales and product development that would shore up eroding segments and capitalize on areas of market strength. Survey highlights include:

  • Millennial Generation consumers (ages 18-34) ate chicken the most often in the two-week survey period. This consumer segment may be most receptive to marketing that builds product/brand loyalty or converts share. 
  • Price is an important trigger of purchasing for many consumers. Marketers should consider using targeted price promotions to reach consumers who might otherwise be non-buyers. 
  • Product convenience continues to be important to many consumers. Convenient portion size and packaging may be significant purchasing influencers across diverse consumer groups – even consumers attempting to stretch their food dollars through efficient product usage. 
  • The percentage (share) of Hispanic consumers eating chicken in the two-week survey period dropped significantly in 2012. There’s opportunity in reclaiming share among this important demographic group. 

Foodservice eating frequency and share drop   

Frequency of eating chicken purchased from retail grocery slipped slightly from 3.6 times in 2011 to 3.4 times in 2012. Eating of chicken purchased from foodservice dropped more dramatically, down from 2.1 times in 2011 to 1.8 times in 2012. See Figure 1: Frequency of eating chicken purchased from retail grocery and foodservice. 

Similar weakness was seen in chicken’s market penetration, or share, of households eating foodservice purchased chicken. There was a 5 percentage-point drop in share, down from 73 percent in 2011 to 68 percent. By comparison, the share of households eating chicken purchased from retail grocery was down 3 percentage points from 87 percent to 84 percent. 

Fewer heavy users, more non-users   

Chicken eating frequency patterns weren’t favorable for producers in 2012. Frequency in the heavy usage category (five or more times in two weeks for retail grocery and foodservice combined) fell from 54 percent to 43 percent. At the same time, the percentage of non-eaters in the combined categories rose from 7 percent to 14 percent. See Figure 2: Patterns of chicken eating frequency, 2010-12

Weakness in chicken eating frequency was especially evident in the foodservice category. While non-eaters in the retail grocery category rose by 3 percentage points, an even larger increase occurred in non-eaters of foodservice-purchased chicken. The number of households not eating any chicken purchased from foodservice in the two-week period rose by 5 percentage points, from 27 percent to 32 percent. By comparison, the survey showed 16 percent of respondents not eating any chicken purchased from retail grocery in a two-week period in 2012. 

Heavy users of foodservice chicken cut back the most   

The chicken industry’s most loyal consumers for foodservice chicken ate less in 2012, according to the survey. The percentage of consumers who ate chicken purchased from foodservice more than four times in two weeks dipped from 20 percent to 13 percent. In contrast, heavy users of chicken purchased from retail grocery rose by 1 percentage point to 29 percent. 

Frequency and share among generational, demographic groups   

Chicken eating frequencies and household shares differed markedly across generational and demographic groups. Following are survey highlights:

  • Foodservice chicken consumption among the Boomer Generation (ages 45-64) and white consumers is weathering tough U.S. economic conditions the best. While eating frequencies and household shares are lower in these groups, Whites and Boomers reported less volatility in these indicators. 
  • Eating frequency of chicken purchased from retail grocery was flat among Whites at 3.3 times in the two-week period, while among Hispanics it was up from 4.2 to 4.5 times and among Blacks it was down from 4.5 to 3.7 times. 
  • Greater volatility occurred in eating frequencies of foodservice-purchased chicken among Hispanic and Black consumers. While Whites reported only a slight decrease from 1.8 to 1.7 times, frequencies fell from 3.2 to 2.2 times among Hispanics and from 2.5 to 1.7 times among Blacks. 
  • The most dramatic shifts in market penetration occurred among Hispanic households, with shares plunging 10 percentage points for retail grocery-purchased chicken and 13 percentage points for foodservice-purchased chicken. 
  • Market penetration among Black consumers was mixed with shares for retail grocery-purchased chicken rising from 89 percent to 91 percent and foodservice-purchased chicken dropping from 84 percent to 79 percent. 

Shopping behavior for boneless-skinless breasts and tenders   

Consumers were asked about their shopping behavior for fresh, boneless-skinless breasts and tenders and what would cause them to buy more of these products. They reported purchasing behavior that may provide useful marketing insights. 

Price shoppers prevail   

Forty-one percent of shoppers buy only when chicken breasts and tenders are featured at reduced prices and they stock up on the products. Another 19 percent buy only when the products are featured but they don’t stock up. Nonetheless, a significant segment of consumers (25 percent) buy as these products are needed without too much concern for price. 

Demographics play a role in this price shopping behavior. White consumers, for example, buy boneless-skinless breasts and tenders on feature prices in larger numbers and stock up at higher rates (44 percent) than Black and Hispanic consumers (37 percent). Hispanic consumers, on the other hand, are more likely than Whites to buy only when product is featured but not stock up (21 percent versus 17 percent). See Figure 4: How consumers shop for boneless-skinless breasts and tenders by demographic group

Greatest Generation and Boomer Generation consumers lead as groups that prefer to buy boneless-skinless breasts and tenders at featured prices and stock up (50 percent and 43 percent, respectively), while Millennial Generation consumers are the least likely to do so (32 percent). 

Preference for dark cuts   

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A significant percentage of Black consumers (21 percent) report they rarely, if ever, buy boneless-skinless breasts and tenders, and that’s because of their preference for whole chickens or other parts of the chicken such as legs, leg quarters, thighs or drumsticks. This is in sharp contrast to the 4 percent of Hispanic and White consumers who did not purchase breasts or tenders in the two-week period. 

Reasons to buy more chicken breasts and tenders   

Consumers rated price as the strongest of reasons to buy more boneless-skinless breasts and tenders. This was the case across all generational and demographic groups. 

Convenience was rated as the second-strongest reason to buy more breasts and tenders. Black and Hispanic consumers rated convenience, and other factors such as taste, recipes and uniformity of pieces in packages, as slightly more important factors in their purchasing than White consumers.

Having more nutritional information was rated as the least important of reasons to purchase more boneless-skinless breasts and tenders. Consumers apparently feel they have enough nutritional information about these products.