CHICAGO – Chicken may be making resurgence in the foodservice market, according to data from Mintel Group, a Chicago-based market research firm.

In its Mintel Menu Insights report, the research firm states that foodservice operators are turning to other proteins, especially chicken, in light of negative publicity surrounding lean finely textured beef and a report of atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in California. The number of menu items containing poultry as an ingredient has increased an average 12 percent in the past three years, a trend that Mintel projects to continue for at least two years. The casual dining segment has seen the most growth, followed by fast casual eateries.

“In addition to the recent health-related issues surrounding beef, and the already high beef prices, we expect restaurants to start focusing their attention on other proteins,” said Kathy Hayden, foodservice analyst at Mintel. “Steakhouses have been struggling in this rough economy and have tried to compensate by offering smaller cuts or more “surf and turf” options, but ultimately, chicken menu innovation is giving restaurant-goers a fresh and less expensive option while dining out.”

The top poultry dish, chicken fingers, has shown a 10 percent increase on menus from the first quarter of 2009 to the comparable period in 2012, dominating quick service restaurants (QSRs) and family/midscale settings, according to Mintel. This is mostly attributable to children’s menus and appetizer lists. Buffalo wings had 19 percent growth in the same time frame. Chicken wraps have gained menu mentions by 35 percent, just as chicken sandwiches are show steep declines (-36 percent). Chicken is also appearing more often on pizza, with a 26 percent increase of chicken as a pizza topping, Mintel said.

Chicken snacks are an emerging trend driven by fast-food chains such as McDonald’s Chicken McBites. Whataburger has a new Whatachick’n Bites and White Castle has Chicken Rings. Snack-sized, dip-friendly chicken is increasingly a product QSRs use to distinguish themselves in the marketplace, according to Mintel.

"Chicken is a versatile ingredient,” Hayden said. “In the future, you can expect to see it used in more ways, from pulled chicken sandwiches and bowls to more home-styled meals, like pot pies and stews."