Baked, fried or reheated in the microwave, consumers expect a lot from their breaded chicken products. This varies by where the chicken is consumed, according to new research from Kerry, Beloit, Wisconsin.

The company conducted a study to better understand the sensory expectations of chicken on menus, one of the fastest growing categories in foodservice. To understand how delivery impacts both the sensory attributes as well as the consumer liking of breaded poultry, 100 Milwaukee-area consumers evaluated both freshly fried chicken tenders on-site at six national foodservice chains and then again after 40 minutes of holding in a delivery simulation.

“With foodservice operators competing for their share of traffic, solving for taste, texture, appearance and other sensory attributes in fried chicken is crucial, both in-store and out for delivery,” said Michelle Wetzel, senior director of research and development-meat systems. “Poultry on menus continues to be a growth driver for operators, playing to consumers’ desire for better-for-you proteins and family-friendly innovation. With formats like tenders and breaded sandwiches leading the way in growth, the poultry category is a key area for delivery optimization.”

The Kerry research showed that consumers’ priorities change with breaded chicken depending on if it’s consumed in the restaurant or delivered to the home. For breaded chicken consumed in-store, consumers most enjoyed products offering herbal flavorings, a visually rough coating, balanced sweetness and real chicken aroma.

Kerry Small

Sensory expectations change when breaded chicken gets delivered. Juiciness is paramount. Heat and spice, along with pepper flavor are also desired, while hard coatings and chewy meat are frowned upon. The chicken also must smell delicious. Craveable aroma may be achieved by using a chicken, flavor-forward marinade.

Consumers are also getting more adventurous with their breaded chicken ordering. New emerging breading types are starting to trend past the inception stage of the menu adoption cycle. It is clear the premiumization trend is here to stay for poultry, according to the Kerry research.

In addition to claiming chicken is hand-breaded and made-to-order, popular menu callouts include:

Buttermilk Fried: Chicken gets marinated in buttermilk and spices for two to eight hours, then dredged in a flour mix and fried.

Encrusted: A thick, hard coating, often with nuts or inclusions completely covers the chicken that gets pan-fried.

Katsu: This is the Japanese term for cutlet and refers to chicken that’s been pounded thin then coated with an egg wash and panko breadcrumbs. After baking or frying, it’s often topped with tonkatsu sauce.

Nashville Hot: Chicken gets marinated in a water-based seasoning and floured, fried and sauced in a cayenne pepper-based sauce.