Not since the classic why did the chicken cross the road question has there been such a puzzling chicken question as this: Are chicken strips cannibalizing chicken nugget servings at foodservice? Chicken strip servings at restaurants and foodservice outlets increased by 16 percent in the quarter ending September 2018 compared to same period last year whereas chicken nugget servings declined by 3 percent, reports The NPD Group. The logical answer is that fans of breaded chicken are swapping out nuggets for strips. The correct answer: No they’re not.

Chicken nuggets lost buyers but these buyers were not switching to chicken strips, according to NPD’s receipt mining service, Checkout, which follows the same buyers over time. The lost nugget buyers did not increase their participation with chicken strips in the quarter ending September 2018 compared to last year. The simple answer is that the two breaded chicken items appeal to different buyers, and the double-digit growth in chicken strip servings is attributed to product innovation at quick service restaurants and new fast casual concepts built around chicken strips.

Although things may not be going well for chicken nuggets at the moment, there were still 2.3 billion chicken nugget servings ordered in the year ending September 2018 compared to 1.5 billion servings orders of chicken strips. There is also the fact that chicken overall is popular with consumers. Pounds of chicken shipped by broadline distributors to independent and micro/small chain restaurants and other foodservice outlets increased by 4 percent in the period compared to last year.  

“Innovative restaurant operators have taken a long time favorite food and elevated the offering,” says David Portalatin, NPD food Industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. “Chicken strips have long been a consumer favorite, but when you take something that consumers already love and deliver value, or elevate the form as some fast casual concepts have, you have a strong platform for growth.”

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