The future of poultry demand and exports were key topics as panelists took audience questions at the National Chicken Council's 58th Annual Conference industry outlook panel.

One question focused on current per-capita meat consumption in the U.S., asking that since total meat consumption of poultry, pork and beef is less than 200 pounds per person, what are the odds that the industry will see 220 pounds ever again? Panelist Michael Popowycz, vice chairman and chief financial officer of Case Foods, said he doesn't see 220 pounds per person happening again for some time because younger people just don't consume meat the same way previous generations did. “I think we’re going to have to market some new products to increase the per-capita consumption here in the U.S.," said Popowycz. "Exports are definitely going to grow, but in the U.S. I don’t see it going up to the 300 [pound per person] level.”

According to panelist Thomas Hensley, president of Fieldale Farms, pricing is an additional concern. Meat prices are currently on the rise, and once a certain threshold is hit, he said, consumers will simply decrease their consumption to save money. Therefore, it's going to be a while before the industry sees an increase in per-capita consumption back to those 220-pound levels.

When asked about food service demand returning to 2006–2007 levels, Popowycz said that growth isn't expected to be significant in 2013. Until the economy recovers, he said, the food service side won't increase.

The export picture, the panel agreed, is a positive one. “The long-term future of this industry is really good, because the demand is clearly going to be out there and your product is going to be one of the most enticing if not the most enticing of the protein products," said panel moderator Dr. Clayton Yeutter, senior advisor for Hogan Lovells.

South America was also a topic of conversation, with the audience questioning the implications of a crop shortfall in that region of the world. Right now, analysts are planning on a decent spring harvest based on a robust fall planting season, said panelist Paul Fox, CEO of O.K. Foods. So, if that doesn’t materialize, it will mean higher prices for products, soybeans especially.