DENVER – Used to be that white chicken meat such as breast meat was all the rage among consumers, but dark chicken meat is finally getting its due and that’s a good thing for the chicken industry, according to a new report from CoBank titled “Evolving U.S. Demographics Give Chicken a New Leg to Stand On.”

CoBank analysts attributed the growing demand for dark chicken meat to shifting consumer preferences driven by demographic changes coupled with advances in deboning technology.

“The shifting consumer demand is driving a corresponding increase in the value of dark meat and the decline in white meat value,” said Will Sawyer, animal protein economist with CoBank. “Since 2000, chicken breast’s share of the value of the bird has dropped from 66 percent to just 45 percent, while the value of chicken legs has increased dark meat’s share from 12 percent to near 30 percent.”

Age and ethnicity are the key demographic drivers behind this trend, CoBank said in the report. Consumption of white chicken meat, and meat in general, is declining among Baby Boomers as they age. Meanwhile, spending power is strengthening among millennials who grew up with international dining options that often feature dark meat.

Also, dark meat chicken is the preferred ingredient for Latino and Asian populations which are growing in the US.

On the processing front, whole leg deboning technology have improved yields while easing processors’ need for the labor required for hand deboning. The CoBank report states that, “…In the face of increasing labor costs and decreasing availability of labor, mechanical alternatives are now financially viable. Chicken processing costs grew approximately 15 percent in the last decade and continue to grow, largely driven by labor costs that typically account for half the total processing cost.”

Demographic shifts and improved poultry processing technology have combined to help dark meat chicken grow as an additional profit center for US producers, Sawyer said.

“A more diversified profit pool including both white and dark meat will help the US chicken industry weather volatility in feed costs, consumer demand and trade,” he said.