Perdue Farms Inc., one of the world’s biggest producers of organic chicken, wants to bring the premium meat to the masses.
The Salisbury, Maryland-based company will convert its Simply Smart prepared chicken brand to organic later this year, Chief Marketing Officer Eric Christianson said in an interview. The line, which includes frozen products such as nuggets, tenders and breasts, will be sold at about half the price of comparable organic products at retail, which often go for about $15 a pound, he said.
U.S. consumers are continuing to clamor for organic goods. Sales in the category rose 6.4 percent to a record $49.4 billion in 2017, according to the Organic Trade Association. Tyson Foods Inc., the nation’s largest meat company, bought specialty chicken producer Tecumseh Poultry LLC earlier this year and Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. has a new organic facility in North Carolina.
“We expect that we’re going to bring in a huge amount of incremental consumers that to this point haven’t been able to afford organic products," Christianson said by telephone.
Animal-welfare advocates at the Humane Society of the United States applauded the expansion of organic certification at Perdue.
"We’re seeing poultry producers adapt with the growing consumer concern related to the treatment of farm animals," Josh Balk, vice president of farm animal protection at the Humane Society, said in an email. "This is just one step of Perdue’s continual progress to improve the lives of chickens in its supply chain, which is more than most of its competitors are doing."
U.S. farmers sold $750 million of organic chickens in 2016, jumping 78 percent from the prior year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But despite that gain, there are relatively few prepared-chicken products made from organic meat, Christianson said.
That’s partly because it can be difficult to source organic ingredients for breading, flavoring and frying. To be certified as organic, chickens are required to be fed with organic grain and raised without antibiotics, among other requirements stipulated by the USDA.
Closely held Perdue says it’s leveraging its size using its supply chain to make the Simply Smart line affordable. It aims to launch the new products in October. They will include items that are gluten-free.