Chicken meat producers admit they are baffled by figures showing a sharp rise in sales in the two weeks after a high-profile TV documentary criticised modern farming techniques.
Charles Bourns, poultry chairman at the National Farmers’ Union and chairman of British Chicken Marketing, said the sector had been braced for a slump in sales in the wake of the damning Channel 4 investigation, Dispatches. The film made damaging claims about welfare standards and fat content in relation to chicken sold in supermarkets.
But new TNS data reveals that the public proved resistant to the programme-makers’ allegations. Value sales of raw chicken meat in grocers, butchers and
wholesalers in the two weeks to August 14 rose 7.8% against the same period in 2004, with volumes up 9.6%.
Meanwhile, value sales of whole chicken during the fortnight were up 16.5%, with volumes up 19.6%. Bourns said some of the increase could be attributed to promotional activity, but otherwise it was mystifying.
He said that colleagues had been reporting tough trading conditions, with prices depressed. “I can only think that this was because there were three quarters of a million more chicks than usual on farms in June, which would have been ready for market in August.”
However, Bourns warned against complacency. Echoing concerns expressed in The Grocer last week by British Poultry Council chief executive Peter Bradnock, he said the fat content of modern broilers was set to become a major consumer issue.
He said British Chicken Marketing planned to tackle this head-on next year.
Chickens produced from 1972 bloodlines were still in existence, he claimed, which would make it possible to find out whether today’s chicken meat really was more fatty than in the past.
Richard Clarke