Why Chicken Can Make Your Restaurant More Profitable

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How much chicken do Americans eat when dining out? According to a recent study by the market research firm ORC and sponsored by the National Chicken Council, the answer is: a lot. In the past two weeks, 72% of U.S. consumers had a chicken meal or snack from a foodservice establishment, and they did so, on average, 2.2 times – a 22% increase from 2015.

No wonder restaurants are adding more chicken items to their menus. The top 250 restaurant chains added some 325 new chicken items during the 12-month period ending June 2016, according to research from Technomic. In contrast, only 73 new beef items were added in the same period. Technomic also noted that many of the fastest-growing limited-service chains are chicken brands.

Chicken is hot for several reasons. Consumers are increasingly on the lookout for better-for-you foods, and chicken is perceived as a healthier high-protein meat. It’s got a taste profile that consumers crave: When diners who purchased chicken in the past two weeks were asked why, their top reasons were taste and freshness.

But arguably the biggest reason for chicken’s enduring popularity and menu growth is its versatility. Since it can be healthy or indulgent, it can please a spectrum of diners. It fits a variety of consumer budgets and taste preferences; operators can price less expense parts like thighs and wings at value prices, and use bone-in breasts for more upscale, pricier offerings – and chicken works in every day part.

And there’s the trend thing. Chicken’s versatility provides operators with many ways to keep their menus on trend. Among the hottest trends for 2017, according to the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot survey of 1,200 chefs, are baked chicken fingers for kids’ meals, bone-in chicken served with waffles, underused parts like thighs and legs, and, of course, perennial favorites like chicken pot pie and fried chicken – comfort foods that never go out of style.

Versatility also means that operators can – and do – use chicken across their menu. The flavors that can work for chicken are limited only by chefs’ imaginations. Restaurant consultants Baum + Whiteman notes fried chicken as the sandwich of the year: No longer just a southern mainstay, fried chicken sandwiches have gone creative and ethnic. For morning day parts, crunchy fried chicken is being served as part of a trend toward bolder textures for breakfast items – and can be used in other day parts as well.

Consumers are eating a lot of chicken outside the home. Given consumers’ growing interest in better-for-you foods and their perceptions of chicken as healthier than other meats, combined with a taste profile that easily fits comfort food and indulgent cravings, plus chicken’s versatility to work well in every part of an operator’s menu, chicken is only going to become more popular – and profitable – for operators.

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