Broiler chickens—the breed of chicken most widely used for meat—have been growing exponentially over the past 60 years. According to the National Chicken Council, the size of the average broiler chicken today is more than three times the size of its ancestor back in the 1920s and almost double the size of its 1955 great-great-great grandparents. Plus, farmers can now raise a chicken to maturity in half the time it used to take.
Unfettered, the poultry industry might be on its way to creating enormous insta-chickens, but for one problem: dry, rubbery breasts. The coveted white meat in larger chickens just doesn’t have very good texture or moisture.
Wendy’s appears to have received the memo from its customers, and now they are putting the brakes on chicken growth and trying to rewind time. The chain has announced that it is spending $30 million to work with suppliers to reduce chicken size by 20 percent. You know, like in the olden days, when a chicken was a chicken.
Rubbery. Dry. Fibrous. Woody. That’s how consumers—and some of Wendy’s customers—have described the modern, mega-chicken breasts. “It’s about the texture and how juicy it is,” Gail Venrick, senior director of protein procurement at Wendy’s, explained to Business Insider.
It took some time before Wendy’s decided the problem came down to the size of the chicken breasts it was serving. First, the chain tried a new marinade and then they revamped the cooking process, but to no avail.
Meanwhile, the idea of going back to smaller chickens to improve flavor was taking hold throughout the industry. After chickens ballooned up for several decades, some industrial growers vowed to stop the growth. Joe Sanderson, Jr., the CEO of Sanderson Farms, predicted back in August of 2016, “In 2017, you will not see increases in live weights you’ve seen the last couple of years. The increase is going to slow.”
Tough, dry breasts have not been found to be a health or safety problem; they just aren’t very enjoyable to eat. The big birds—some of Sanderson’s were as large as nine pounds—didn’t fly with customers (and they probably couldn’t haul themselves off the ground either).
Will all broiler chickens soon be reduced to their size of their 20th-century forefathers? Wendy’s initiative seems to suggest that many chickens will be going on a diet, stat.