Are chicken prices going up? Blame the “Chicken Sandwich Wars”

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If you’ve noticed that chicken is harder to find in the grocery store, or if you’ve had to pay an arm and a leg (or a wing and a thigh) for chicken in a restaurant, you’re not alone.

“One of the factors is the popularity of the Chicken Sandwich Wars,” said Caleb Hicks, director of communications and memberships at the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association.

Chicken is big business in Alabama. The state produces more than 1.4 billion chickens each year, according to Hicks. That vast majority of them are broilers – the kind of chickens raised for people to eat. Hicks said the state produces 22 million broilers each week.

“We don’t have a chicken shortage in Alabama,” Hicks said. He said the state’s 18 treatment facilities were operating at around 95% of their capacity – a normal level even before the COVID-19 pandemic. “What we’re seeing right now is simply an increase in demand for poultry products. “

Instead, the rise in popularity of poultry, along with many supply chain issues, such as a lack of truck drivers, has led to a partially limited supply in some places, even as the demand was skyrocketing. This could cause prices to increase in the meat section or on the menu at your favorite Buffalo Wing restaurant.

And the popularity of fast food chicken sandwiches especially over the past year, has contributed to a drastic increase in demand.

On average, the price of chicken in the United States was higher in May than any month since the summer of 2018, according to data from Monday Index.

[Can’t see the chart? Click here.]

Chicken cost $ 2.37 a kilo in May, according to this data. This is an 87% increase from the April 2020 price, just after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when prices bottomed out at $ 1.27. May recorded the 11th highest monthly chicken price in the United States since at least 1996.

During the pandemic, the demand for chicken was almost entirely in grocery stores. That is changing as more restaurants reopen at full capacity amid relaxed closures.

“This shift in demand is moving from shopping to groceries to restaurants and providing fast service,” Hicks said. This competition could drive up prices at the grocery store.

Chicken in Alabama

USDA 2017 Census of Agriculture data shows that Alabama remains the second largest producer of broilers in the United States behind neighboring Georgia.

The South in general produces a lot of chickens. Three states – all in the South – sold at least 1 billion broilers in 2017.

[Can’t see the map? Click here.]

Alabama sold more than 1.1 billion that year. That’s nearly 221 chickens for every person living in the state. Hicks said the industry creates 90,000 jobs in Alabama and more than $ 15 billion in economic impact.

In fact, chickens make up the majority of agricultural production in Alabama these days. The industry accounts for nearly 66% of the state’s annual farm revenues, according to the APEA website.

Alabama Poultry Producing Counties

A handful of counties in Alabama produce more broilers than most states. Two counties in particular – DeKalb and Cullman – produced more than 100 million broilers each in 2017, according to the Agriculture Census. That’s over 33 states.

These two counties are found in the Alabama “Poultry Belt”, a group of counties north of Birmingham that combine to produce the majority of Alabama’s chickens. Seven of the state’s top 11 counties for poultry production are in this part of the counties in the northern half of the state.

[Can’t see the map? Click here.]

Do you have an idea for an Alabama data story? Email Ramsey Archibald at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @RamseyArchibald. Read more stories about Alabama data here.

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