Originally created 01/18/06

Chicken chains have plenty to cluck about

The average American chows down 87 pounds of chicken a year - nearly double the amount from 25 years ago.

That, according to the National Chicken Council, has only been helped by recent restaurant trends, spokesman Richard Lobb said.

In addition to chicken-only chains such as Zaxby's, Raising Cane's and Chick-fil-A, casual dining restaurants are boosting their poultry offerings and even traditional burger and pizza joints such as Krystal and Papa John's now feature chicken on their menus. KFC, a chicken leader, has diversified with new items including its 99-cent sandwich and wraps.

"Starbucks doesn't sell a lot of chicken yet, but we'll hope they'll come around," Mr. Lobb said.

Baton Rouge, La.-based Raising Cane's is the newest chicken-centric eatery to hit the Augusta market. It opened its first location in Martinez in October. Its second location is slated to open in Augusta in late February at 2849 Washington Road, next to Red Lobster.

At Raising Cane's, your choice of meat is either chicken strips, or more chicken strips.

"The whole philosophy of Raising Cane's is one love," marketing manger Juan Simoneaux said.

The company, which has 35 stores nationally, has plans for nine new stores in 2006, he said. The Raising Cane's concept is similar to that of Zaxby's, an Athens-based company that carved out a niche with chicken fingers and wings in the early 1990s.

Zaxby's has 307 Southeast stores and will have stores as far north as Virginia in 2006, Chief Operating Officer Robert Baxley said.

"From our vantage point, the reason why we stick with chicken is that we deliver on that niche," he said.

Chicken's popularity continues to grow, according to the National Restaurant Association's trends forecast for 2006.

More than half of family and casual dining operators surveyed in the study said poultry was more popular with customers than two years ago, said Hudson Riehle, the senior vice president of research.

About 43 percent of fast food restaurant operators said they have seen an increase in sales of chicken strips, bits or nuggets in the past two years, according to the study. Analysts credit the public perception that chicken is a healthy alternative to other fast food fare.

To increase sales of nuggets and strips at Chick-fil-A, the company is launching a dipping sauce marketing campaign this spring, spokesman Mark Baldwin said.

The more chicken strips sold, the better for the chicken producers and processors, Mr. Lobb said. "Everybody loves them," he said. "It's a fun food."

Reach Tony Lombardo at (706) 823-3227 or tony.lombardo@augustachronicle.com.

Chicken Morsels

- In 2004, Americans consumed 10.5 billion chicken wings.

- Georgia is the top broiler-producing state, and South Carolina is ranked 12th.

- About 45 percent of all chicken consumed in the U.S. is sold through restaurants.

- While the South is a stronghold for eating chicken, people in the Northeast are more inclined to eat it.

Source: National Chicken Council


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