- After years of breeding chickens to grow rapidly and produce the maximum amount of breast muscle possible, poultry producers are running into problems. They include woody breasts, similar to chewing leather, and squishy fillets known as "spaghetti meat," according to The Wall Street Journal.
- Researchers at the University of Arkansas estimated it will take an extra $200 million in industry expenses for companies to identify and divert breast fillets that are too tough, squishy or striped with bands of white tissue to sell in restaurants or grocery stores.
- Some commercial poultry consumers such as Wendy's and Whole Foods have switched to purchasing smaller, slower-growing birds in an effort to circumvent undesired textures, The Wall Street Journal noted. Chicken industry officials are confident they will be able to minimize the meat texture problems caused by genetic selection, but it will take several years to do so.
Texture is an emerging challenge within the poultry industry. After decades of working to produce more chickens faster, breeders can now grow a 6.3-pound birds in 47 days, according to the National Chicken Council — roughly twice as fast as 50 years ago.
Although this rate of production can be beneficial for the bottom line — chicken breasts can be sold at a 13% premium compared to overall wholesale chicken meat prices, The Wall Street Journal noted — it can actually be detrimental to sales if consumers don't like the taste. Even if scientists are unsure as to what is causing these strange textures, consumers are noticing the change and that can hurt sales. Chicken producers have seen a drop in demand recently and these textures don't help.
Although "spaghetti meat" only affects 4%-5% of the commercially produced chicken breasts, woody breasts have been found in around 10% of samples, and white striping has been noted in about 30% of chicken breasts, the business newspaper noted. Although the entire chicken breast is not always affected by these abnormalities, according to Wendy’s, consumers do notice where none of these issues are there at all.
Clearly, there is a limit to how far poultry producers are willing to push the bottom line. This is exemplified by Sanderson Farms, which has slaughtered the chickens they raise when they are slightly younger in order to reduce the frequency of woody breast occurring. Other producers might follow suit by slaughtering chickens younger or working to return their flocks to more natural sizes, which improves the quality of the filets.
While not all producers may be willing or financially able to reduce the occurrence of these meat abnormalities through breeding, they will likely still want to be rid of them and will have to divert these subpar breasts out of production lines. There are opportunities to use this meat in animal feed or pet food. The natural pet food space, in particular, is seeing high growth as human consumers are willing to pay a premium for their pets.
As it stands, there doesn't seem to be a massive uproar about the reduction in quality which has been a concern since 2010, according to the Journal. So, it may be the case that consumers are content to accept that commercially processed chicken may not always be of the most superior quality, especially if prices remain low. Those who care are likely going to switch to higher-quality or locally bred poultry.