The popularity of chicken, that humble, everyday ingredient and mainstay of the QSR sector, is growing by leaps and bounds in North America and around the world.
Why are sales of chicken something to crow about? One reason could very well be that the price of red meat has skyrocketed. Another is how governments and health professionals alike are discouraging its consumption. “People turn to delicious white meats like chicken to fill the gap,” says Olymel Corporate Chef Marc Laroche. “People’s food and health knowledge is growing, they’re getting better informed, and chicken scores very high when it comes to healthy nutrition.”
But there’s more to it than that. Chicken has the wonderful ability to balance the exotic with the very familiar. Not only is it delicious, it offers a window into the culinary traditions of other peoples from around the world with no need for complex cooking methods. Chicken delivers the flavours of the entire planet without any great fussing in the kitchen, with accessible ingredients and with incredibly delicious results. There’s no better way for customers to experience the tastes of India or Asia without leaving Canada than to enjoy a plate of Butter Chicken or Chicken Pad Thai.
The fact that people are eating healthier also gives chicken an edge. Chicken is a lean meat that’s chock full of nutrients and high in protein, making it as healthy as it is delicious. White meat or dark, chicken is especially rich in vitamins B3 and B6. Vitamin B3, or niacin, promotes healthy skin and aids digestion and the assimilation of other key nutrients. Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, while not exactly a household word, helps the body metabolize proteins and synthesize amino acids. Chicken is a nutritional powerhouse in addition to being lean and tasty, helping explain its rise in popularity. Today, eating healthy means eating more chicken.
The trend towards consuming more and more chicken is borne out by the numbers. In 2018 Canadians consumed over 75 lb of chicken per capita*, a number that’s been steadily increasing over the years at the expense of pork and beef. Simply put, chicken is eating their lunch. Globally, according to the OECD, chicken meat is expected to account for almost half of the increase in meat production over the next 10 years, surging past pork as the world’s most popular meat at some point in 2020, assuming pre-COVID-19 trends were to continue.
In a recent survey, 33% of consumers said they intended to eat more chicken than they did last year, a trend that was even more pronounced among Millennials and Generation Z.
More chicken, more ways than ever
The type of cut doesn’t seem to matter. Breasts, wings, tournedos, breaded chicken in all its variations, fried chicken on the bone or boneless in sandwiches, are growing in popularity across the board. So not only do people like chicken, they seem to like all chicken, proof that it’s delectable in all its forms.
And among all of these bright spots for chicken, one variety is really on fire… in more ways than one! Nashville-style Hot Chicken, made with a healthy dose of cayenne pepper in the coating, is seeing people break into a sweat across North America. Interestingly, despite its heat, this fiery favourite has found its way into breakfast sandwiches and onto waffles. “I see a lot more adventurous people out there seeking new foods and new flavour experiences.” Laroche says. “Our tastes are expanding and chicken gives a restaurant operator a lot of range in satisfying that demand.”
Of course, chicken is nothing if not the world’s most versatile protein. Roast chicken and braised chicken are cold weather favourites, as is their comfort food by-product, chicken soup. When the weather warms up, chicken rocks on the grill, enhanced by that subtle smokiness and charred crust and smothered in any one of an endless variety of rubs and sauces.
Cooking chicken is relatively simple compared with other meats, making it very difficult to get it wrong. And it readily welcomes whatever flavour you want to add to it. Grilled, in pasta dishes and salads, on a plate with a light couscous salad, fries or vegetables, cooking chicken is easy to master in a thousand different ways, making it suitable for more junior kitchen staff to train on.
When it comes to flavouring and spicing, chicken truly is a citizen of the world. White meat or dark, chicken lends itself to the entire range of flavouring approaches, from the subtle herbs used in European and Scandinavian dishes, to the smoky effects of quick grilling and low-and-slow barbecuing, to the spice-forward flavours of Asia and India, to the fiery, chili pepper-based approaches from many countries around the world.
Chicken tends to absorb the flavours of the place it is consumed, but also the culture. Not only is chicken one of the least expensive of the animal proteins, it’s also universally accessible and rarely subject to spiritual and cultural restrictions. There are very few barriers to loving chicken!
Young and old alike love chicken and it’s good for them. With its broad appeal it has become a staple on senior’s residence menus. For children, of course, it’s often the main course of preference. How often does a child, despite all of a parent’s cajoling, spurn a restaurant’s feature offerings in favour of the good old reliable chicken nugget.
By virtue of its popularity, ease of preparation and incredible versatility, chicken has become a strategic ingredient on many a restaurant or institutional menu. At Olymel Food Service, we look at chicken not just as a delicious food, but as a key component of any food service offering. We work to supply not just quality chicken meat, but all the business-building advice and best practices we can possibly share with our customers.
In the chicken segment, we offer many skus and support them with all kinds of original preparation ideas you can take to the bank! Here are a few examples:
For a versatile white meat, perhaps the 6 oz chicken breast is the most versatile cut of all. Serve them marinated and grilled with stir fried vegetables over rice noodles with large shavings of parmesan for a fresh and tasty East-meets-West fusion dish.
These kitchen essentials are loved by everyone and lend themselves to a wide variety of presentations. Chopped in Asian-influenced bowls or crowning healthy, square-meal salads, in wraps or as the classic main feature on a bed of vegetables, breaded chicken breasts are a favourite of customers and cooks alike.
Portioning is easy with these calibrated chicken legs. Serve them on a bed of rice or couscous with your signature sauce or glaze or BBQ style with fries and coleslaw. They provide a brilliant way to simplify stocking and improve kitchen efficiency all while pleasing every palate in the house.
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