Chicken outlets in the U.K. would appear to be moving ever more upmarket, according to research from market intelligence agency Mintel. Among the main contributing factors behind this change are perceived improvements in animal welfare and the healthiness of product offering, allowing consumers to indulge in chicken without feeling guilty.

Mintel reports that the number of affluent Britons – defined as those who say that they have money left at the end of the month for a few luxuries or to add to savings – visiting chicken outlets and restaurants has risen to 45% this year, up from 40% in 2018.

Those described as having stable household finances are also now more likely to be enjoying the nation’s chicken shops and restaurants, Mintel says, with 47% of those describing their finances as “O.K.” having visited a chicken shop this year, compared to only 41% last year.

More and wealthier customers is great news for those selling chicken, but there have been changes in the other direction too that are not so positive. Fewer consumers that describe themselves as having a challenging financial situation are now going out to dine on chicken, with the percentage down to 42% compared to 45% in 2018.

Higher and higher

The value of the chicken restaurant market is expected to grow by 5% this year, with sales of over GBP2.3 billion (US$2.8 billion), although it should be remembered that early 2018 saw KFC suffer significant difficulties in its U.K. sourcing.

The growing popularity of chicken shops and outlets among the U.K.’s wealthier consumers has been ascribed to the belief that chicken and burger establishments are now offering more healthy options than they did 12 months ago.

Mintel notes that while improvements in chicken welfare are helping to attract more affluent consumers, with meals typically costing more than other fast food choices, “exotic” offering are also helping to broaden the appeal for more affluent diners.

The growing interest in chicken also ties-in with other food trends, such as eating more -high-protein foods.

Half of respondents have also said that they would be prepared to pay higher prices for plastic-free dining, allowing them to satisfy environmental and sustainability concerns.

Despite this growing demand for higher value product, the outlook for the sector is not entirely positive. 44% of respondents said that they would like chicken and burger outlets to offer more dishes with meat alternatives and substitutes, with interest particularly high among those between the ages of 25 and 34.