SPRINGDALE, ARK. — Local Cornish hen growers for Tyson Foods have less to do at present as slumping consumer demand in a sluggish economy prompted production cuts in Cornish hens, according to the Northwest Arkansas News.
One grower, who has grown Cornish hens for 30 years, said it’s as slow as he can remember with respect to the number of flocks he gets per year. In a normal growing year, he would raise eight flocks, now he’s hoping to get six.
According to U.S.D.A. regulations, a Rock Cornish game hen, or Cornish game hen, is a young, immature chicken (usually five to six weeks of age), weighing not more than 2 pounds in ready-to-cook weight, which was prepared from a Cornish chicken or the progeny of a Cornish chicken crossed with another breed of chicken.
"Rock Cornish Game Hens have been a significant part of Tyson’s product offering since they were introduced by the company in the mid 1960s," Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson relayed to MEATPOULTRY.com.
The grower quoted in the N.A.N. article thinks during these tough economic times, consumers may opt for a 6-pound broiler instead of Cornish hens. At local grocery stores in the region, the 2-pound bird recently sold for an average price of $3.49, a twin pack of slightly larger birds cost $7.55, the article added. In addition, Cornish hens cost the grower and integrator more to raise. They are slow-growing and their feed contains higher protein content throughout the growing cycle. Requiring warmer houses, Cornish hens also cost growers more in utilities.
Tyson introduced Rock Cornish game hens as a specialty item to appeal to consumers demanding upscale products, Mr. Michelson explained. "However, while they are especially popular during the holiday season, they also meet the needs of consumers seeking smaller meal portions, since each bird is intended as an individual serving," he added.
Today, there are only a few U.S. companies that produce Cornish hens. Tyson is the leading producer, marketing an estimated two-thirds of the Cornish produced in the U.S. Perdue Farms is the next-largest producer. Tyson’s Rock Cornish line is produced exclusively at Tyson’s Randall Road plant in Springdale, Ark., which covers more than 117,000 square feet and employs 425 people. The plant processes just over 1 million Cornish game hens and bagged WOGS (without giblets) per week for domestic and international retail and foodservice customers.
"We contract with poultry producers within a 60-mile radius of our facility to raise Cornish Hens," Mr. Mickelson said.
The Randall Road facility processes six brands of Cornish game hens, including the Tyson, Tasty Bird and Patti Jean brands. The finished product leaves the plant in an uncooked form. Most of it is frozen. Most of the product is sold to retailers, while the remainder is marketed to foodservice companies or international customers.
"Due to the economy here in the U.S. and overseas, Cornish sales have been soft this year," Mr. Mickelson said. "This has led to reduced production at the Randall Road plant as we work to balance supply with demand. We’re hopeful business will pick up through the holiday season and as the economy improves."