WASHINGTON – Chicken breast meat still rules the grill, but dark meat is making sales gains ahead of grilling season, according to the National Chicken Council.

Chicken thighs climbed 6 percent in volume growth at supermarkets during the 13 weeks ended March 31 despite a 5 percent increase in average retail price, according to Nielsen Perishables Group FreshFacts data. This represents an 11 percent dollar growth. Chicken legs/drumsticks declined slightly due to a 7 percent increase in average retail price.

"The growth in popularity of dark meat cuts can be attributed to four factors, really: an interest in its flavor, its popularity in more globally inspired dishes, generally a lower price point and its attributes that make it better suited to the direct heat of a grill," said Tom Super, vice president of communications with the NCC. "Chicken sausages are also finding their way on to more and more grills, too."

However, chicken breast is remains the most popular cut of chicken among consumers, accounting for 56 percent of supermarket chicken category dollars, compared to 17 percent for chicken legs/drumsticks and thighs. Volume growth for chicken breasts climbed 2 percent, while dollar growth advanced 1 percent, with a 3 percent increase in average retail price over the same time period.