Whatever the cause, the elusive condition in breast meat has the attention of the industry including Sanderson Farms. 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – During an Aug. 25 conference call with analysts, a poultry industry issue known as “woody breast” was given as one reason a company like Sanderson Farms is conservative in its production forecast for the coming year. The occurrence of hard, often inedible portions of poultry breast meat is the topic of a feature story in MEAT+POULTRY’s September issue, but it also came up in an exchange with an analyst this past week.

When questioned about his modest estimation of industry poultry production increases only as high as 2.5 percent and that bird weights will likely decrease during a time when market conditions strongly favor the poultry industry, Joe Sanderson Jr., chairman and CEO, said significant production bumps are likely to last for several years.

“The reason I think that we are aware of…it is mainly related to the woody breast problem. We know of some processors that have taken weights down hoping to get out of the woody breast problem,” Sanderson said, adding that many players in the supply chain are reportedly requiring smaller chickens to avoid dealing with the problem meat in foodservice operations.

While some researchers would disagree that bigger birds are contributing to the prevalence of woody breasts, “We think it is primarily genetics, and we think it will be a couple years, maybe even three years before the breeders can get this corrected,” Sanderson said.

He said the problematic breast meat requires designated in-plant staff to identify it and prevent it from being shipped to customers.

“We have extra people on the line palpating and culling it out so our customers don't get it. That product can go to somebody that is making nuggets. It can be ground up,” said Sanderson of the product that has no food-safety risks associated with it but its quality issues make it unsuitable for products like chicken salad.