RED DEER, Alta. — It is a good time to be in the chicken business in Alberta.
The supply managed commodity was allowed to grow through a new national allocation agreement several years ago and expansion has been happening ever since, said Erna Ference, chair of Alberta Chicken Producers.
“Our allocation has grown at rates not seen since the early 1990s,” she said at the chicken producers annual meeting held in Red Deer Feb. 28.
Last year, Alberta produced 146.1 million kilograms of chicken, a 6.4 percent increase over 2015.
Growth in 2017 is expected to increase by four percent.
“With the beef and pork supply starting to increase globally and the prices of these commodities in a bit of decline, we may not be able to sustain this substantial growth we have seen year over year,” she said.
Last year, the Alberta Chicken Producer’s consumer study found that Albertans say they eat chicken because they like it and consider it healthy.
“You are the protein market leader and it is your market to lose,” said Nick Black of Intensions Consulting, which was hired to poll 1,000 Albertans about their meat preferences.
More than 90 percent of those surveyed reported eating chicken in the previous week with many saying they had eaten it at least four times.
Eighty-eight percent said they had eaten beef and about three-quarters had eaten pork or fish.
Most of chicken’s popularity is among younger people in the 16 to 29 age group. They are urban people who consider chicken a versatile, easy-to-prepare meal that offers good value for money. They spend about $25 a week on chicken in various forms.
Overall, young men eat more meat because they are looking to build more lean muscle mass and they consider chicken an important part of their diet.
Among those in the 50-plus age category, beef was more popular.
These younger consumers have some definite ideas about what they want.
Most want chicken raised in Canada and more than half want it to be hormone and antibiotic free. They said they would pay more for chicken that was free from these products.
“Your biggest consumers are young people and they are the ones who are going to spend the most for it and they are also the ones that have the greatest concerns about antibiotics and hormones,” he said.
While chicken contains no added hormones, the issue about raising birds with antibiotics could be-come a future black mark against the industry due to negative public perceptions about added hormones and antibiotic use.
The A&W restaurant campaign about its meat being free from added hormones and antibiotics is influential.
“It is having a big impact on the way consumers think and feel,” Black said.
It has made them suspicious about what is in their food and they wonder how it might affect their children.
Some of those surveyed said the government should intervene with stronger food safety regulations.
Young consumers surveyed said they did not have great concerns about how chickens are raised, but there was a misconception that broilers are raised in cages rather than barns.
Eating roast chicken at a large family gathering is a nostalgic memory for many of those surveyed.
Most of those surveyed admitted they understand little about farms and probably do not want to know the actual processes, said Black.