Chicken sales and consumption are expected to increase in 2014. However, marketers know that year-to-year changes in consumption have more to do with production decisions than consumer demand. Keeping market share at profitable price levels is the long-term challenge.

Just ask beef producers about winning and keeping consumer consumption. Their product was considered to be the king of the proteins in 1975 when per capita beef consumption reached 95 pounds. (Today, per capita consumption of beef is around 57 pounds.) No other meat protein -- including chicken -- has ever matched beef's consumption high.

Beef marketers today readily admit that 40 years ago they had lost sight of who was king -- the consumer. A beef industry leader said so at the recent National Institute of Animal Agriculture symposium on the use of antibiotics in animals. 

"The last time the consumer took a backseat the industry experienced two decades of decreasing beef share," said John Stika, president of Certified Angus Beef. 

Certifed Angus Beef LLC promotes the breed through sales of Certified Angus Beef brand products. 

"Consumer spending decisions are based on a price:value relationship," Stika said.

Taste is the attribute of greatest importance to consumers, he told listeners at the symposium, but there's a long list of extrinsic quality cues of increasing importance to their meat purchases. This includes food safety, sensory attributes, healthiness, convenience, and products that are natural, organic, locally grown, socially responsible or humanely raised. 

In consumer research paid for by Certified Angus Beef, taste is consistently the most important product characteristic in choosing among beef, chicken, fish and pork. Ranking second in importance are "value for the money" and "safe to eat." Near the bottom of the rankings of 21 product characteristics is "fits a health-conscious diet."

"Rising interest in knowing more about their food has put consumers on a fairly steep learning curve and created a dynamic marketing environment with many experts. Credibility is established by communicating both technically and emotionally relevant information," he said.