Local preferences persist as global poultry demand rises

Poultry may the most popular meat choice in numerous markets, but this does not mean that all consumers want the same product. Learn where regional demands persist and how demand is evolving.

(Tycoon751 | Dreamstime.com)
(Tycoon751 | Dreamstime.com)

Poultry consumption is increasing across the world. Chicken is the meat of choice in the Americas, Oceania and Africa, but this does not mean that all consumers are buying the same product. With the U.S. Department of Agriculture projecting a 2.2% annual increase in chicken meat consumption to 2029, demand for chicken meat will continue to grow, but meeting this demand cannot be achieved through a one-size-fits-all product.

Not all markets want, or can afford, the same presentations of poultry meat, and consumers’ demands are rarely static. Rising incomes tend to lead to more sophisticated tastes but in some markets, these rising incomes simply translate into greater demand for meat, rather than for a value-added product.

Continents such as Africa and Asia, for example, with rising populations and improving living standards, are unable to increase production fast enough to meet consumer demands, creating a need to import meat. Overseas producers attending to the diverse regional and cultural preferences can help meet this protein gap and find markets for products that may not be popular in their home markets.

Approximately 12% of global production is traded, but which products are in demand in each region and how is demand changing?

Live chicken market declining

The live market is driven by cultural influences, availability of live birds, and a lack of refrigeration or other methods to preserve products. 

In Mexico approximately 40% of chickens are purchased live and either slaughtered at the time of purchase or by the consumer. In contrast, live birds are rarely purchased in the U.S. or most of Europe. These countries have greater purchasing power, demand more leisure time and are willing to pay for a processed bird. 

Trend to part ways from whole birds, parts gaining popularity over whole birds

In many countries, patterns of consumption are shifting from whole carcasses to parts. Only around 10% of birds are now sold in the U.S. as whole carcasses.

Further illustrative of this is the change that has occurred in the composition of Brazilian exports. In 2012, Brazil exports comprised 36% whole birds and 27% cuts. By 2018this shifted to only 27% whole birds and 66% cuts. Brazil exports to Africa, the Americas and the European Union (E.U.), all of which favor cuts over whole birds.

Some countries continue to prefer whole birds. In Mexico, 50% of poultry is purchased as whole carcasses. The Middle East also maintains a preference for whole birds. The region imports 1.8 times more whole carcasses than cuts from Brazil, for example.

Regional, country poultry cut preferences

In the E.U. and U.S. breast meat is the chicken meat of choice. In 2019, around 62% of U.S. poultry sales were breasts. While dark meat, particularly boneless skinless chicken thighs, is gaining in popularity, the preference for white meat leaves significant export potential in dark meat cuts. 

Prime markets for dark chicken meat are Mexico and Asian countries such as Japan, China, and Korea. Asian consumers consider white meat a cheaper and less flavorful cut. 

Chicken paws are highly desirable in China. The Chinese market increases paw profitability for producers outside of China by 15 to 20 times since paws not sold to China are often rendered. Chinese demand for other dark meat cuts is also high, especially since consumers have had to switch from pork to poultry since African swine fever devastated Chinese hog supplies.

In Europe, boneless cuts continue to gain in popularity. In 2018, E.U. imports of fresh or chilled boneless cuts of chicken were 25 times higher than in 2010. Boneless cuts are favored in many developed countries as consumers are willing to pay a premium.

When companies achieve premium prices for breast meat, they can sell the dark meat for less than it costs to produce it. 

Selling parts at discounted rates to less developed countries provides needed protein sources; however, it can make it difficult for local farmers to compete and grow a local market. Cultural preferences for live and locally grown birds should provide opportunities for increased local production. Alternatively, countries may impose tariffs to protect their markets from perceived “dumping” of dark meat. 

Ready-to-eat products

Another trend is pre-prepared, ready-to-eat products. Higher-valued, fully cooked poultry products tend to be imported by higher-income countries in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Between 2010 and 2018, the E.U. imports of prepared or preserved meat products containing 25% to 75% chicken meat rose 6-fold. 

Other trends

As markets evolve, other factors will continue to influence consumer meat preferences. Some, such as use of antibiotics and hormones or genetically modified ingredients in feed rations result in regulatory trade barriers.

Others, such as free-range and organic production methods are market differentiators attracting consumers willing to pay more for these characteristics. 


Brazil exports more parts than whole birds to most regions. | ABPA


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