Is it time to stop being chicken and try laying hen?

By Liam Kurzeja, Marketing Manager, RSPCA Assured

If you caught Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast on Channel 4 a couple of weeks ago, you will have heard their idea about high street chicken shops using meat from ex-laying hens – but how viable is this really?  And what are the opportunities for foodservice?

But before getting into that, what exactly is the difference between the chicken we eat and the one that lays our eggs?

Put simply chickens farmed for meat – or broiler chickens as they are known in the farming industry – have been bred over many years to produce as much meat as possible in as short a time as possible. Laying hens, on the other hand, are a different breed of chicken specifically bred to lay eggs and they tend to be much leaner.

However, the excessive rate at which most broiler chickens now grow comes at great cost to their activeness and health. The weight they put on at such a young age puts a significant strain on their immature and developing skeletons and organs.  That is why RSPCA Assured requires producers to use specific higher welfare breeds, which are slower growing.

In some parts of Asia they don’t differentiate between meat and egg laying chickens. Instead they use the same bird for both eggs and meat – a far less wasteful approach than we have adopted in the west. But with Germany trialling breeds that could serve this ‘dual-purpose’ perhaps it won’t be long before the UK follows their lead.

In the interim, back to the question of whether the UK’s ex-laying hens are really a commercially viable option especially if they’re that much leaner.

Well if you saw Friday Night Feast you’ll have also seen the taste test with a bunch of customers in a chicken shop. And, like me, you might have been surprised that, not only did they prefer the flavour of the free range laying hen – completely forgetting about the amount of meat on the bone and instead appreciating the quality of the meat – they also resoundingly agreed they’d be happy to pay a bit more for it.

And that is where using meat from free range laying hens could also make great economic sense.

Currently there is little market in the UK for end of lay hens with the bulk of them being frozen and shipped abroad or being used as cheap ingredients for pet food.  So ex-laying hens could be an attractive, competitively priced, alternative to the traditional broiler chicken.

And they could come with the added bonus of being free range – and RSPCA Assured – an opportunity that could offer food service businesses a significant advantage over their competitors in a market where free range chicken meat is rarely an option.

The demand is certainly there. In 2015 Mintel – one of the world’s largest research companies – reported that animal welfare is now the UK’s number one ethical concern when it comes to food.  And in a new RSPCA Assured survey 86% of shoppers said they think all the chickens we eat should be farmed to ethical animal welfare standards.

So, ask yourself this, could ex-free range laying hens differentiate and add value to your business?  If the answer is yes then get in touch and register your interest. You can contact us on 01403 800141 or by emailing [email protected]

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