Will chicken's reign as the new buzzy and cheap menu item at fast-food chains be cut short by infertile roosters?
Chicken prices are up after the world's largest chicken breeder discovered the fertility of a key breed of roosters is down, reports Reuters. The breeder in question, the Aviagen Group, is responsible for fathering as much as a fourth of America's chickens raised to be eaten.
The roosters are failing to reproduce due to a genetic shift that made the breed hyper-sensitive to overfeeding, according to Sanderson Farms, an Aviagen customer and the third-larger U.S. poultry producer. When the roosters got fat, they bred less, decreasing fertilization and number of eggs hatched. A reported 17 percent of eggs laid by Aviagen hens mated with the rooster breed did not hatch, according to Sanderson's chief financial officer, a significant increase from the typical failure rate of 15 percent.
Last month, the U.S. Agriculture Department reduced its U.S. chicken production forecast for 2014 to a 1 percent increase in poundage from 2013, a significant drop from the long-run annual average of 4 percent. Less chickens mean higher prices – a risky increase, when beef and pork prices are already on the rise.
Aviagen has replaced the overweight and infertile breed with a new breed of rooster. While it is too early to definitively predict if the change will work, so far, Aviagen and Sanderson representatives tell Reuters the outlook is good.
That's great news for restaurants that have been pushing chicken offerings as the prices for beef and pork have skyrocketed. Domino's began selling chicken covered in pizza toppings in April and Pizza Hut announced earlier this week plans to increase profits with a national chicken rollout. Both mega-chains and quirky concepts are getting in on the trend: Burger King brought back the Subservient Chicken to promote the triple-decker Chicken Big King in April and Umami Burger founder Adam Fleishman opened chocolate fried chicken joint ChocoChicken in June.
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