Poultry Power Meets Global Flavor

Beef prices are high and consumers want the new, the bold, the novel, and in some cases, the ancient. What’s ahead for restaurant and retail flavors this year?

Though the Federal Reserve neglected to lower interest rates in its recent meeting, Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told 60 Minutes in early February that, “We want to see more evidence that inflation is moving sustainably down to 2%,” adding that their confidence is rising and that the time for slowly implementing cuts over an 18-24 month period is coming…but not just yet.

Grocery prices are still high (25% more than pre-pandemic) and restaurant prices even higher. But a little confidence goes a long way, especially for most middle-American consumers. Everyone loves a deal, and when combined with a few recent trends in the American palate helping dictate the American market, there’s more than death and taxes certain this spring.

Chicken, for one, and all the flavors it can enfold.

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Chicken Achieves Flight in 2024 

Many meat-centric consumers face a serious problem – beef is expensive, and it will be for quite some time. Drought in America and beyond (on the heels of a historically hot year) has kept beef cattle herd numbers down while natural cycles of consumerism have kept demand and beef prices high.

Enter the chicken, and not for the first time.

Chicken, like vodka, can be the star of the show or merely the medium by which the flavors unfurl. And in 2024, consumers can’t get enough, particularly in restaurants and retail. From the spicy proliferation of Tennessee hot chicken to twice-fried “dirty” wings and the ubiquitous crispy chicken sandwich, many have crossed the road to try something new, novel, or simply safe on the spurs of an expensive few years.

According to recent data from Circana, chicken servings have outsold beef in the restaurant industry. Chick-fil-A first made waves with its trademark sandwich decades ago, but the 2019 debut sandwich from Popeye’s saw lines forming around the country. Fresh off the chicken sandwich wars of a few years ago, chains such as Shake Shack, McDonald’s, and more added their own wing- and breast-encrusted offerings to the filet foray.

Per Technomic, chicken listings on restaurant menus have grown 6.4% in the past five years, outpacing the 4.7% of burgers and other beef-based items. For the world’s most recognizable QSR, McDonald’s has generated over $1 billion in annual global sales with its McCrispy Chicken sandwich, while innovation reigns among its competitors as well – Burger King recently introduced ghost pepper chicken fries, while Popeyes announced new (and permanent) flavors to its menu in honey BBQ, garlic parmesan, and ghost chicken.

Tyson Foods, meanwhile, recently reported fourth-quarter earnings to further ruffle the feathers of the poultry hoi polloi; sales are up 0.4% from the previous year ($13,319 million), and Tyson anticipates domestic beef production to shrink 2% in FY2024 opposed to FY2023.

As for chicken, Tyson expects its birds to stay close to the coop, so to speak – USDA projects chicken production will be flat in FY2024 opposed to 2023.

Flavor That Chicken with _______

 Kerry recently released its 2024 global flavor charts, further confirming what many manufacturers know: global flavors are ascendant, particularly in the United States and North America.

Key flavors in the next five years include many options that pair well with the chicken, leading many in restaurant and retail to try to unlock the perfect combination for the on-the-go consumer.

In the United States, the top five predicted flavors for the next five years are: 

  • Coconut
  • Lemon
  • Cinnamon
  • Orange
  • Apple 

The top five emerging flavors offer a little more intrigue and are drawn from more international fare. Though cotton candy chicken may only appear at the State Fair, apricot, pistachio, and ginger dishes abound around the world. The top five emerging flavors in the U.S. include:

  • Apricot
  • Pistachio
  • Yuzu

According to Kerry, one notable savory concept is chicken tenders with coffee bourbon sauce, combining plain poultry with the tang of bourbon and the acidic bite of coffee from South America, “a sauce that perfectly complements any grilled meat with its spicy, smoky, and complex taste with an alcohol punch.”

As consumers continue to ask themselves how much is too much to spend on indulgent foods and food away from home, the venerable chicken – and the global flavors it accommodates – continue to offer fresh innovation (and outsize value) in restaurant, retail, and specialty food categories. This time last year, many were walking on eggshells and thought the sky would fall as the economy death-spiraled into recession – for now, operators and consumers alike can continue to diversify their needs without putting all their eggs into one basket.