Poultry production is the fastest growing meat sector in the world. According to figures from the United States Department of Agriculture, global production is forecast 3 per cent higher in 2019 to a record 98.4 million tons.
In Australia, the chicken meat industry is worth $2.87 billion (2018–19) with an approximate retail value of around $6.6 billion. The Australian Chicken Meat Federation (ACMF) reported that the per-capita annual consumption of chicken meat in Australia increased tenfold from 4.6 kilograms per person in 1965 to 47 kilograms in 2016. And the industry is projected to grow to 49.2 kilograms per person in 2019–20.
So why is chicken surpassing all other meat products in terms of growth? It’s largely to do with health. Since the 1960s, public health messages have warned people about the dangers of consuming too much red meat. While considered a good source of protein, vitamins and nutrients, a diet high in red and processed meats can lead to health problems.
Growth in production and demand for free range chicken meat has been particularly strong over the past five years and Australian producers have been doing their part to meet this demand.
Chicken meat production in Australia is dominated by a few large privately owned players. Inghams Enterprises and Baiada Poultry supply around 70 per cent of meat chickens through a vertically integrated model. They contract growers to look after the chickens, but control all stages of chicken production and own the chickens, hatcheries and primary processing plants.
In August 2019, Baiada’s free range chicken brand, Lilydale, launched a marketing campaign and refreshed packaging to advise consumers that their chickens are raised without antibiotics and with no added hormones or growth promotants.
Lilydale farms across South Australia, New South Wales and Western Australia are accredited by Free Range Egg & Poultry Australia (FREPA), which carries out regular audits to ensure they continue to meet industry standards.
Yash Gandhi, Lilydale head of marketing, said they are committed to farming free range chickens and producing high-quality produce.
“All our chickens come with the Lilydale Promise, a guarantee that every chicken is raised without antibiotics, no added hormones and no growth promotants, which is now clearly labelled on all of our products,” she said.
In terms of environmental impact of the industry, while most commercial chicken meat production is farmed intensively, the ACMF said, if anything, this helps to contribute to its “modest” impact.
“The way we rear chickens today, where chickens are housed in large sheds or barns which are designed and ventilated so that they provide, as closely as is possible, their ideal climatic conditions, where food and water are laid on continuously and the birds are fed a diet which very precisely matches their ideal dietary nutrient profile for each stage of growth, all means that we can optimise the flocks’ growth and minimise the amount of feed the birds require to grow,” Dr Vivien Kite, ACMF executive director, said.
She said all this translates to more efficient use of feed, energy and water to produce 1 kilogram of chicken meat, and less greenhouse gas emissions created.
This also applies to free range production systems, where the chickens are also housed in large sheds, but additionally have access to an outdoor range area during daylight hours. In more extensive systems, she said, chickens grow less efficiently and utilise more resources as the same level of control over climate and quantity of diet cannot be achieved.
Agrifutures Australia says the industry has many opportunities to capitalise on chicken meat’s modest environmental footprint and to further reduce its environmental impacts and emissions.
“Continuous improvement, including RD&E to optimise flock performance, efficiency and industry productivity, will be required to enable chicken meat to retain its favourable position as the most affordable and popular meat on the domestic market,” the authority says.
This story first appeared in Inside FMCG magazine. Subscribe here to read the 2020 Outlook issue.