While quick-service brands like Chick-fil-A, KFC, and Popeye’s have capitalized on America’s apparently endless appetite for chicken for many years now, there’s even a newer wave of chicken brands coming into the fold. Raising Cane’s, Wingstop, Bojangles, and Church’s Chicken have all found their way inside the QSR Top 50 of late.
America's love of chicken goes beyond anecdotal evidence, too: According to the National Chicken Council, the average American will consume over 97 pounds of chicken in 2022. That is over 40 pounds more than beef, the second-most consumed animal protein.
“Demand for chicken on menus has gone crazy,” says Denise Orth, marketing manager at Brakebush. “It’s always been really popular, but as people continue to move away from beef and pork and other traditional menu staples, chicken has become that much more popular.”
This slideshow will investigate trends relating to America’s favorite protein and point out some things operators should keep in mind when building menus around chicken items.
Operators are still struggling with labor—a mid-year update from the National Restaurant Association stated that 78 percent of operators do not have enough staff to keep up with demand. The good news is that creating craveable chicken items doesn’t have to be a complex nor laborious process. Brakebush, for example, offers a variety of battered, breaded and unbreaded, fully-cooked solutions that make creating various chicken applications easier than ever before, leading to operational efficiencies and profitability.
Another advantage of pre-cooked, pre-portioned frozen chicken is that the risk of cross contamination is significantly reduced. “Brakebush’s products are ideal for a modern restaurant setting where an operator can take the product right out of the freezer and either fry it or bake it or use it in an impinger and set the timer and walk away,” Orth says. “So you’re going from frozen to ready to serve with hardly any labor at all—there’s no need for a batter or breading station, or anything like that.”
The versatility of chicken is one of the many reasons why it is the most consumed protein in the U.S. year in and year out. Surely most restaurant operators have heard of the Chicken Sandwich Wars by now, but chicken goes far beyond a breaded sandwich.
“Chicken can be a variety of things,” Orth says. “Bone-in wings can come breaded or unbreaded, and be customized with any number of different sauces. Tenders, strips, fillets—it’s just such a versatile ingredient. It’s not that people just like chicken, they love all different formats and flavors, which leads to endless possibilities.”
Brakebush offers prepared chicken products from wings and tenders, to nuggets and strips, to fillets and cutlets, to sausage patties perfect for a breakfast sandwich.
A darling of the pandemic due to their ease of execution and off-premises ready nature, the price of wings is actually down 40 percent from their May 2021 peak, per the USDA. This is something Orth has noticed, too.
“It feels like demand for every chicken product is still growing, but we’ve seen it decline some with wings,” Orth says. “It could be they were taken off some menus when supply was limited and we’re just seeing them level out.”
Still, demand for wings remains above where it was prior to the pandemic, and it’s good news for wing-centric operations that the price of wings has decreased alongside demand.
Partnering With Chicken Specialists
Because most quick-service restaurants menu at least one chicken item, sourcing the right chicken products can be a point of differentiation for restaurant brands. While some chicken vendors carry an array of other proteins, Brakebush focuses on chicken and chicken only. That’s why many operators across the industry believe it makes the most sense to partner with a chicken specialist like Brakebush, which has been in business and headquartered in Westfield, Wisconsin since 1925. Many operators prefer the quality, operational fit, and level of service provided by Brakebush.
“We’re dedicated to making the best chicken,” Orth says. “But really, it’s about the relationships we’ve built over the years, and we want to be a partner who helps our customers however we can. Sometimes we say, ‘It’s just chicken’—but it’s more than chicken, it’s relationships.
“Brakebush has grown as a company in recent years—expanding to four production facilities nationwide,” Orth continues. “But at the same time, we’re small enough where those relationships still mean a lot to us.”
For more on Brakebush’s chicken and expertise, visit the company’s website.