With commodity prices of beef and other non-poultry proteins on the rise and consumers wanting healthful choices and variety, chicken continues to grow as a foodservice favorite among c-store operators and their customers.
By Marilyn Odesser-Torpey, Associate Editor
7-Eleven announced in April that it was beefing up its chicken offerings with the addition of lightly- breaded, 100% white meat Chicken Dippers to its hot foods lineup in more than 5,200 of the Dallas-based chain’s 7,800 U.S. stores. This was in addition to a hot foods program that already featured breast tenders and wings.
“Since we launched hot foods nationally five years ago, our chicken breast tenders and wings have been top-sellers, so we know our customers love chicken,” said Kelly Buckley, 7-Eleven vice president of fresh food innovation. “The Chicken Dippers proved so popular during limited-time in-store tests that store operators asked to keep them at the conclusion of the trial period.”
Americans are favoring chicken over other protein meats. Estimated consumption of chicken for 2014 is 85 pounds per capita. That is way ahead of beef, which is 53.6 pounds per capita, and pork, 47.1 pounds, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data.
Chicken And Things
Torrance, Calif.-based Famima c-stores have been featuring chicken in a starring role in a wide variety of presentations for the past six years. Famima carries the requisite chicken items, including three types of wings (buffalo, teriyaki and boneless), nuggets, salad and an assortment of sandwiches. But the nine-store chain has gone further into Asian options by creating Chinese-style entrees like orange chicken and teriyaki chicken dishes, as well as chicken and mushroom variations of its signature “steamy buns” (dough wrapped around a savory filling and steamed), which have become popular among customers.
In fact, the orange chicken entrée is the best seller among all of Famima’s entrees, said Noriyuki Kinoshita, general manager of the chain’s merchandising department. And the company is looking to add more chicken sandwiches and entrée items to provide an even wider variety of options and flavor profiles for its customers.
Wings are No. 1 among all of Famima’s fresh foodservice items, followed by nuggets. Both are within the top 10 sellers among all of the c-store categories, including beverages and candy, Kinoshita said.
Kinoshita pointed out that sales of chicken items have been significantly increasing at Famima, especially over the last two years. Sales of these items have doubled from five years ago.
“Chicken has it all—it’s tasty, affordable, has a healthier image than beef and pork and is more filling than many veggie or seafood items,” Kinoshita said.
Lunch is the best time for chicken sales, Kinoshita said. About 40% of these sales come between 11 a.m.-2 p.m. But the items continue to sell well after lunch as well. About 30% of sales occur between 2 p.m.-6 p.m.
“Our customers buy them as a meal or afternoon snack for themselves or to share,” he said.
Famima sells wings in portions of four or eight. Nuggets come in 10 pieces or 20.
At 7-Eleven, the new Chicken Dippers come in packs of six for $1.99 at participating stores. Consumers have a choice of ancho chipotle sauce, ranch or honey mustard dipping sauce. A cup-holder in the specially-designed Dippers packaging helps keeps the sauce from spilling.
“Chicken Dippers are flavorful, juicy and can satisfy those who are hungry for a snack or small meal,” Buckley said. “It’s a full-service experience for our guests. All they need to do is choose which sauce they want. Then they are handed a complete package, ready to go. We believe this is another product we can offer to meet the huge consumer demand for hot chicken snacks.”
Both Famima and 7-Eleven are focused on freshness. Famima’s wings and nuggets are fried in the stores. 7-Eleven prepares its Chicken Dippers in Turbo Chef ovens as it does its wings, tenders and other hot-to-go items.
The popularity of chicken among c-store consumers follows the country’s propensity for chicken options. Sales of poultry nationwide increased 14.5% from 2011-2013, 7.3% just from 2012, to reach $32.8 billion, according to a recent report by Mintel research. Category sales rebounded in 2012 and 2013 after consecutive years of minimal growth in 2010 and 2011, due in part to higher poultry prices during that period.
Parts—especially wings, boneless breasts and drumsticks—make up the largest slice of chicken sales. From 2011-2013, chicken part sales grew 15.2% to an estimated $19 billion. Chicken parts also account for more than half (58%) of the category sales and “are destined to continue propelling poultry forward,” the Mintel report estimated.
Sales of parts are expected to grow an additional 20% between 2013-2018.
Sales of whole chickens grew almost 12% from 2011 to reach $6.1 billion in 2013. The Mintel report recommended that retailers market whole chickens for family meal occasions. Some 35% of consumers indicated they want to see more family-sized poultry options, and 28% said they prefer time-saving poultry options, such as pre-seasoned or pre-cooked items, according to the report. Mintel predicted the whole chickens segment will increase 17% from 2013-2018, at current prices.
Mintel analysts expect the poultry category to reach sales of $39.9 billion in 2018, an increase of 22% from 2013-2018. In a recent survey, 94% of consumers indicated that they eat poultry at least once per month.
Women and households with children indicate higher frequency of poultry consumption. Compared to men, women are more likely to consume poultry on a weekly basis, (66% compared to 61%).
In a convenience store foodservice report published this past March, Mintel found 26% of consumers say c-stores should carry healthier, freshly-prepared foods. Half said they sacrifice health for convenience when buying food at a c-store.
Part of poultry’s appeal is that it provides a protein source that has a “better for you” health halo. This presents a real opportunity for convenience stores to put the spotlight on chicken to attract consumers to their fresh foodservice offerings, said Julia Gallo-Torres, Mintel’s category manager for foodservice.
Mintel reported that 40% of consumers said they would be consuming more poultry this year compared to last year. Also 57%, a large segment of which are women, said they would like to eat healthier.
For retailers, chicken can mean a healthier bottom line as production increases, prices fall and costs of non-poultry commodity items, such as red meat and pork, continue to climb, Mintel noted. According to the USDA, poultry production has increased during the past several years and is expected to continue to grow over the next five years.
Additionally, frozen stocks of chicken have increased, adding to the overall U.S. poultry supply.
Retailers should take this opportunity to start thinking beyond the wing and the nugget to create menu items that are both healthful and enticing, Gallo-Torres said.
“In general, we didn’t see much innovation in chicken items in c-stores during the last half of 2013,” Gallo-Torres said. “We saw a lot of the same chicken fingers, Caesar salad, chicken salad sandwiches, chicken club sandwiches and the like.”
Chicken’s versatility offers c-stores the chance to experiment with new preparations and flavor profiles, Gallo-Torres said.
“For both the consumer and the retailer, the more presentations of chicken, the better,” Gallo-Torres said.