Chicken remains Canada’s most popular protein, with per capita consumption for 2016 estimated at 32.8 kg.
With consumers becoming increasingly conscious about their food choices, there has been an increase in demand for “better-chicken” offerings, including locally produced, organic and free-from products.
“Canadians are more conscious about their food than ever, making it clear they want to know where their food comes from and how it was raised,” says Marty Brett, senior Corporate Communications officer, Chicken Farmers of Canada (CFC). “Our “Raised-by-a-Canadian-Farmer” branding program helps consumers identify chicken that’s been raised to the highest standards of quality and freshness.”
Brett notes restaurant chains, such as Swiss Chalet and Mary Brown’s, have begun displaying the “Raised-by-a-Canadian-Farmer” logo on menus. Though tapping into the eat-local trend, CFC’s branding also assures consumers that the chicken is hormone- and steroid-free, as the use of hormones and steroids in raising poultry has been banned in Canada since the 1960s.
The Canadian chicken industry has also successfully eliminated Category I antibiotics for disease prevention in Canadian chicken production (antibiotic categories are ranked based on their importance to human medicine). In July, CFC also announced established timelines to further its strategy to eliminate the preventive use of antimicrobials of human importance — setting a goal the preventive use of Category II antimicrobials by the end of 2018 and Category III antibiotics by the end of 2020.
Other “better-chicken” options may have less momentum behind them, but continue to carve out their own piece of the market. Interest in organic chicken continues to grow. Despite possessing no meaningful nutritional difference from regular chicken, several chefs attest to a quality difference — not to mention the environmental implications.
“The difference between an organic free-range chicken from [our supplier] Yorkshire Valley Farms and a standard chicken is night and day,” says Michael Angeloni, chef and partner at Toronto-based Union Chicken. “When I tried the Yorkshire Valley Farms organic chicken I knew it was what we needed for our restaurant.”
Labels such as free-range, free-run, 100-per-cent grain-fed and halal are also of interest to Canada’s changing consumer — driven by changing cohorts and the country’s increasing ethnic diversity. Given the value put on corporate responsibility and environmental stewardship by the millennial and Gen Z cohorts, the trends driving “better-chicken” offerings will likely continue.
“We’re seeing a great deal of innovation in chicken offerings across the retail and restaurant industries,” adds Brett. “Chicken is also one of the only meats that offers so much choice to consumers. From the never ending “team dark meat” vs. “team white meat” offerings, to being able to offer chicken of different varieties — like halal, kosher, free range, vegetarian-grain fed, raised without antibiotics, et cetera — there’s more available to consumers.”