KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Tyson Foodservice, a unit of Tyson Foods Inc., believes the time is ripe for the company to take a leading position in the market for chicken products made from birds raised without antibiotics (NAE).

The company recently announced the transition to NAE will include the Tyson Red Label line, Tyson True Tenderpressed chicken breast filets and Tyson uncooked, unbreaded, individually frozen (IF) chicken. This is in addition to the company’s commitment to transitioning its entire consumer branded chicken line to being raised without antibiotics ever.

The transition of the foodservice products to NAE claims will impact a total of 87 products by the end of October, and for the 2018-2019 school year, all of Tyson Foods’ K-12 commodity eligible poultry products will transition to No Artificial Ingredients and No Antibiotics Ever, the company said.

One factor driving Tyson’s — and other processors’ — move to NAE production is the sustained demand for NAE products.

“In 2015, Tyson Foods conducted a research study with 5,000 foodservice consumers,” Tyson Foodservice told MEAT+POULTRY. “Since, we’ve continued to monitor consumer awareness and believe it’s time to take a leading position by offering a set of Tyson-branded products with no-antibiotic-ever claims in foodservice. This follows the demand we are seeing in certain foodservice channels.”

Successful companies in the poultry industry also are responding to the demand. Mike Donohue, vice president of Agri Stats Inc., Fort Wayne, Indiana, said up to 42 percent of chickens produced currently are fed NAE compared to between 3 percent and 4 percent just four years ago.

Tyson Foods has been working to reduce the amount of antibiotics used in the company’s chicken production for more than a decade, and the effort is paying off. “As of June 2017, all chickens raised for Tyson branded retail products are grown without using antibiotics — including animal-only antibiotics — making us the largest producer of No Antibiotic Ever chicken,” the company explained.

Another factor is consumer demand for transparency. Gains in disposable income have led to higher consumer focus on premium attributes such as grass-fed, organic and cage-free, Packaged Facts reported in its “Meat & Poultry: U.S. Retail Market Trends & Opportunities” analysis.

“…concerns over animal welfare, health, the environment, and supply chain transparency will continue to present challenges and opportunities to marketers of meat, poultry, and substitute products,” Packaged Facts said. “Even the largest meat and poultry processors are being forced to reconfigure their production practices and marketing to address evolving consumer preferences.”

“We provide our customers with educational information around key poultry claims such as ‘chicken raised with no antibiotics’ so they can make informed decisions about how they communicate to their consumers,” Tyson Foodservice said when asked how the company helps customers explain NAE chicken to consumers. “In addition, key USDA approved product claims are communicated on the product label. Ultimately, what is shared with consumers is determined by the customer, but we work to do our part to ensure they have the facts.”