VERSATILITY REMAINS TOP REASON FOR PURCHASING CHICKEN

WASHINGTON -- Three years ago, consumers stated they purchased chicken over other proteins because of its versatility and convenience. In 2002, the same reasons prevailed -- an indication that poultry continues to dominate those product attributes in the meat case, according to an updated survey released by the National Chicken Council.The poll, conducted by PKS Research Partners, Ewing, N.J., and

WASHINGTON -- Three years ago, consumers stated they purchased chicken over other proteins because of its versatility and convenience. In 2002, the same reasons prevailed -- an indication that poultry continues to dominate those product attributes in the meat case, according to an updated survey released by the National Chicken Council.

The poll, conducted by PKS Research Partners, Ewing, N.J., and released during this summer's Chicken Marketing Seminar, queried this year a panel of consumers different from the one convened in 1999. But the results show little change in the reasons consumers buy chicken.

For example, the attributes "more healthy" and "low in fat" retained their third- and fourth-place rankings, respectively, as well.

This year, 96% of respondents stated they liked chicken's versatility; 90% agreed strongly that the protein is convenient. Consumers who were classified "heavy" eaters of chicken tended to rate these characteristics higher than those considered "medium" or "light" users.

One notable exception occurred with the "low in fat" attribute, where light chicken eaters rated the feature higher than heavy chicken eaters, 93% compared to 87%.

In examining other attributes, heavy chicken consumers were more likely to assign higher percentages to the properties of variety, tenderness, quality/wholesomeness, freshness and taste. Researchers noted that in regards to the quality/wholesomeness question, both heavy and light chicken eaters were nearly in total agreement, 85% and 84%, respectively.

Also of note, the report pointed out that those respondents who stated they had not consumed chicken during the survey period gave much lower numbers overall in ranking poultry's attributes. For example, on the question of quality/

wholesomeness, 80% of total users (heavy, medium and light) agreed with the attribute, while only 52% of non-chicken eaters concurred with the statement.

In examining frequency of consumption, the poll found that nine out of 10 respondents ate a meal or snack that contained chicken. The average number of times chicken was eaten during the two weeks prior to the survey period was 5.4, which takes into account both retail supermarket and food-service purchases, and excludes those consumers polled who stated they did not eat any chicken products.

Supermarkets made gains as a source of chicken purchases, the poll revealed. Indeed, poultry items were bought an average of 3.1 times during this year's survey period, up 29% from 2.4 times the year before. Conversely, food service increased only marginally, from 1.7 times in 2001 to 1.8 times this year, an increase of 6%.

Put another way, the poll stated that 81% of respondents indicated they ate one or more meals containing chicken from a supermarket. Almost one-quarter (23%) of the sample said they ate chicken from a grocery store five or more times; 7% stated they ate an average of eight or more meals that include chicken. But any way the numbers are presented, researchers noted that supermarkets remain a strong sales mover in chicken marketing.

Geographically, respondents in the South ate the most meals containing chicken in the two weeks prior to the survey, at 3.4 times. They were followed by those in the Northeast, at 3.3 times. The West reported eating the least, at 2.8 times. Looking deeper, researchers found that more than two in 5 respondents in the South (44%) and more than one-third in the Northeast (36%) indicated they ate at least six meals containing chicken in the two-week period.

The report also found that respondents with an income of $50,000 or more were significantly more likely than the total sample to eat chicken from the supermarket (89% vs. 81%), and those between the ages of 35 and 49 years, at that income level, were more likely to eat a "significantly higher number" of meals that contain chicken purchased from a supermarket.

Respondents with incomes of $30,000 or less were significantly less likely than the overall sample to say they did not eat chicken purchased from supermarkets during the survey period, 23% to 17%.