CHARLESTON, SC – After three years of decline driven by the economic recession, per capita consumption of chicken in the United States is on the rise again, according to the April 8 edition of the National Chicken Council’s Washington Report. Bernard Leonard, National Chicken Council chairman, passed this information along recently to an audience of food writers and editors in Charleston, SC. Both foodservice and retail consumption are expected to increase, he added.

“As the economy continues to recover, total sales this year at restaurants are expected to increase 3% to 4% [unadjusted for inflation] and flat to 1% if you take inflation into consideration,” said Leonard, speaking to a food media seminar sponsored by NCC and the US Poultry & Egg Association.

Demand for chicken at home is expected to continue to be strong, Leonard said, citing research indicating that chicken was the most popular choice for dinner at home in 2010.

In 2007, 2008 and 2009, consumption per capita of chicken slumped. A consumption drop for three years in a row is unprecedented, according to NCC. NCC spokesman Dick Lobb told consumption of chicken in lbs. per capita have been the following in recent years: 2007, 86.4 lbs.; 2008, 84.8 lbs.; 2009, 81.0 lbs.; 2010, 83.6 lbs.; and predicted for 2011, 85.0 lbs.

Food prices are also escalating, according to government projections, Leonard said, with food inflation at the wholesale price level in February 2011 running at almost 4% – the largest monthly increase since 1974.

Corn’s rising price is a major driver of food prices, since that grain is used to feed both poultry and livestock, he said. The cost of feed is about 70% of the cost of producing a live chicken and 55% of the final cost of the product at the wholesale level, he added. Since 2006, corn has tripled in price, due largely to demand from the ethanol industry, Leonard said.