Poultry & Meat

Health, Animal Welfare, Affordability Drive UK Value Added Poultry Sales

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The total meat and poultry market in the United Kingdom performed very well in the early part of 2023, according to Kantar, the London-based global data, insights, and consulting company. However, in the 12 weeks through November 26 this category saw a drop in volume sales of -17.5%. The shift can in part be attributed to the rising cost of meat and poultry, which has in turn has seen customers spending less on this segment. A second factor is the rise in the number of consumers switching to flexitarian, vegan and vegetarian diets.

Another issue within the poultry sector includes concerns over chlorinated chicken imports from the USA, following the UK’s exit from the European Union. According to Statista, questions are being raised about what the future standards will be for the poultry industry in Britain. All of these questions are of major relevance to the more than 2,600 companies engaged in raising poultry in the UK.

BFFF Chief Executive Rupert Ashby

“The rising cost of poultry feed, including corn and soy, along with the increase in fuel and energy prices we have experienced this year, have driven production costs even higher,” said Rupert Ashby, chief executive of the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF). “However, poultry is generally a great source of protein and can be a healthy and nutritious option for consumers searching for value for money foods. This has encouraged shoppers to keep or add frozen poultry to their shopping list.”

He added: “With inflation beginning to ease – dropping to 9.2% in November, down from 10.1% in October and 12.2% in September – we hope to see sales increase in the new year as consumers have more disposable income.”

Taste and Texture

The value-added frozen poultry products segment has remained popular with UK consumers. Quick service restaurant chains have responded to this demand, with items such as  McDonald’s McSpicy Chicken Burger (pictured below) and Burger King’s Smoky Chimichurri Chicken Burger.

Global flavors with heat and crunch seem to be the order of the day. The TGI Fridays range in Iceland Food Warehouse outlets, for example, features several poultry dishes, including Sesame Chicken Breast Fillets in a Tennessee-style glaze, Boneless Chicken Wings with a sweet chilli jam, and Dragonfire Boneless Chicken Bites with a smoky-style glaze and chilli flakes.

“Frozen breaded and battered chicken is a freezer staple and remains a firm favorite among consumers,” said BFFF’s Ashby. “Manufacturers have innovated in this category to add value, keeping shoppers engaged and returning to the frozen aisle.”

Iceland has recently launched Breaded Sweet Chilli Chicken Breast Fillets, bringing new vibrant flavors to the category. Part of the brand’s three items for £10 mix-and-match offer, the dish that serves two people.

Healthy Options

The general public has become increasingly health conscious, and poultry is regarded as a healthy lean animal protein thanks to its nutritional content. Not only does it contain essential amino acids, but vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc, choline and vitamin B12. In fact, the American Heart Association promotes chicken as one of the best ways to keep cholesterol levels down naturally.

“Consumers have become increasingly more health conscious and are therefore searching for alternative options that are more nutritious,” said Ashby. “With the cost of living crisis forcing shoppers to be more budget conscious, frozen poultry has been a fantastic choice, giving shoppers tasty, nutritious, affordable food.

“We have seen many new added value products entering the frozen aisle that encompass health and affordability. For example, MyProtein’s Chicken Teriyaki Yakisoba Noodles, which are low in fat and high in protein. Additionally, Princes trio of frozen marinated chicken kebabs, which are made from 100% chicken breast, are produced in fully recyclable packs, are HFSS compliant, and are high in protein.”

Animal Welfare

Animal welfare issues continue to remain important to consumers when purchasing value added products. In fact, a poll conducted by the RSPCA in May 2023 revealed that 87% of the public expect supermarkets to ensure all the chicken they sell is farmed to higher welfare standards. In addition, 52% of people who buy chicken said they’d be willing to pay more for higher welfare standard animal products.

Furthermore, a BFFF member stated that welfare issues are very important to customers, with their research revealing that 42% of its consumers in the UK consider animal welfare as important when purchasing added value poultry products.

“These staggering statistics indicate that supplying higher welfare chicken will have a positive impact on brand reputation and sales,” asserted Ashby.

Marcelli Gazarolli Ferreira, international and sales marketing lead for the Seara Meats brand, whose JBS Foods parent company exports chicken breasts and other value added poultry products such as breaded chicken dippers (pictured above, beneath the headline of this story) to the UK  market, assures that it only supplies chicken that is 100% sustainably sourced, vegetarian fed, carefully farm-raised and free from artificial hormones.

She commented: “The health benefits of this high-quality protein are well proven, which is why we can see consumers increasingly opting for frozen chicken.”

Retailers are well aware of the pressure from consumers to use higher welfare animal protein in their product lines, with supermarkets like Waitrose and Partners, and Mark and Spencer signing up to the European Chicken Commitment as part of their continuous improvement plan for animal welfare. By 2026, the Waitrose and Partners’ private label fresh and frozen chicken and own-brand products that use chicken as an ingredient, will move to the higher welfare standards as set out in the European Chicken Commitment.

Waitrose & Partners Commercial Director Rupert Thomas stated: “We believe that compassionate farming and good business go hand in hand and that’s why we are especially proud to add our name to the 2026 European Chicken Commitment Pledge.”

Value added chicken products remain a go-to option for UK consumers, but with increased interest in nutritional value of the food they eat, along with animal welfare issues and demand for value, frozen food manufacturers and retailers have a lot to take into consideration.

– Reported by Sarah Welsh