KANSAS CITY — Driven by the chicken sandwich wars and an increased desire for “comfort foods” brought on by the pandemic, fried chicken consumption is about as high as it’s ever been. That’s according to Greg West, senior vice president of marketing and food innovation for Beloit, Wis.-based Broaster Company, the producer of the Genuine Broaster Fried Chicken program.

“The question really is how much of that will stick post-pandemic, and I think it will,” said West. “Fried chicken is a core comfort food, and the last three years have done nothing but support that trend. It’s done that through increased consumption of the basic fried chicken on the bone, chicken tenders and chicken sandwiches, which has done nothing except create even more popularity around fried chicken.”

Because of the portability of most fried chicken varieties and applications, the grocery channel is poised to be able to take advantage of that as consumers increasingly look to their local grocer to help put dinner on the table.

Year-over-year, Holts Summit, Mo.-based PFSbrands, the producer of Champ’s Chicken, has observed a 10% increase in chicken sales within the top 500 restaurant chains. Andy Griffith, the company’s regional training specialist noted that consumers are beginning to pivot away from bone-in chicken products and move toward more protein choice options.

“This change ties to the fact that people are busy and on the go, and we have a whole younger generation of consumers entering the market,” said Griffith.

Spicing things up

The overall taste and satisfaction retailers can offer with their fried chicken programs, the more likely customers will keep coming back for repeat purchases, pointed out West. As fried chicken offerings and possibilities expand further than the typical 8-piece package of fried chicken, he recommended supermarkets consider focusing on four key flavor segments:

  • An original or signature category
  • Southern Crispy – a variety that focuses on extra crispiness
  • A spicy product for both the above categories
  • The ability for consumers to add their own flavor by leveraging sauces and marinades

“All of these categories are growing,” West said. “It’s not like people are only interested in spicy, or that the core original category is depleting, and it’s not like crispy chicken is replacing the original category either. There’s huge growth in all areas.”

Retailers can also add new flavor varieties to the chicken breading to add limited time menu offers or unique fried chicken staples customers can’t get anywhere else.

“Breading flavors can offer a savory taste – with hints of garlic, onion, sea salt, and black pepper,” said Laura West, marketing and innovations team for Montgomery, Ala.-based Wynn’s Grain & Spice. “Breading can also deliver heat – in either a slow build or a more upfront intensity. Wynn’s offers a line of topical seasoning spices that allow retailers to play with innovative flavor combinations.”

Wynn’s most popular fried chicken breading blends include:

  • Wynn’s All Natural Crimson Breading - a bold, savory blend crafted with clean and simple ingredients. Customers eat with their eyes and paprika gives this blend a mouthwatering golden-brown finish that will draw customers to try it.
  • Wynn’s Fiery Hot Breading brings the heat as the company’s signature spicy blend. Balanced out by the finest grains, Fiery Hot Breading offers intensity without offending milder palates. Wynn’s Fiery Hot has heat that builds and is balanced by a light and crispy finish.

“Seasonings allow retailers to play with innovative flavor combinations by topping fried chicken with a signature flavor for a limited time,” Wynn’s West noted. “For example, fried chicken topped with sea salt and pepper, a Cajun blend, or spicy chipotle flavors.”

Expanding the menu

As consumer interest in chicken sandwiches, chicken tenders and other varieties increases in foodservice and restaurants, retailers can profit off that, too. Currently, the most popular items PFSbrands offers at retail include:

  • Chicken Sandwich – made with a premium cut chicken breast fillet that’s hand battered and double breaded, then fried to perfection. Next it’s placed on the brand’s specialty brioche bun for unique firmness and mild sweetness that also then features signature homestyle pickle slices.
  • Dipper Bowl – starts out with mashed potatoes as a base layer, piled high with sweet buttery corn, whole-protein white meat chicken dippers, with choice of white or brown chicken gravy, finished off with shredded cheese to melt on top.
  • Chicken Tenders – made with a special tumble marination process and designed to last long while holding in the hot case.

“By delivering value where you know people are looking. Success leaves clues,” Griffith said. “Model after other category winners by also adding in the Premium Chicken Sandwich and Loaded Dipper Bowls to your program. A few other key items to look at are creating simple Family Meal Kits.  Think in terms of dinner for two, family of four packs, and a party of 6 to 8 deal.  Make it easy for customers to choose with set protein portion and side size options.”

PFSbrands recently launched Red Letter Sides, a brand of pre-packed, 1-pound pouches of mashed potatoes, buttery corn, creaming mac & cheese and homestyle green beans that are simple to heat and serve.

Broaster and PFSbrands offer full-menu chicken programs

With Broaster’s Genuine Fried Chicken, the company helps retailers develop their menu to suit their specific needs. Once a plan is in place, retailers will choose their equipment and merchandising options. Through Broaster’s the chicken is cooked in a Broaster-provided pressure fryer, and retailers can choose to market the chicken with the Broaster’s label or under a private label.

The company can supply retailers with menu boards, graphics, templates and social media partnerships.

Broaster’s menu includes a variety of options including assorted fried chicken boxes, popcorn chicken, sandwiches, wings, chicken tenders, and sides such as mac n’ cheese, potato wedges, baked beans, coleslaw and mashed potatoes & gravy. The fried chicken varieties include:

  • Genuine Broaster Chicken -  Fresh, 8 piece cut chicken is marinated in Chickite marinade and then lightly coated with Slo-Bro coating. Genuine Broaster Chicken is one of the only chicken programs on the market with a bread ahead coating process.
  • Genuine Broaster Chicken Spicy - uses an Extra Spicy Slo-Bro coating to kick the heat up.
  • Genuine Broaster Chicken Tenders - feature a crunchy coating in a boneless format consumers are seeking. Tenders are growing in popularity among the younger demographics.

“We offer great restaurant quality with defined flexibility,” said Broaster’s West. “That flexibility then coupled with our support really provides a kind of a mouthwatering product, to drive traffic to your deli and drive sales, not just for chicken but also all the things that go with it.”’

Meanwhile, PFSbrands offers retailers its Champ’s Chicken program. Nationally branded, retailers can use Champ’s breakfast, lunch and/or dinner menus, along with 10 levels of support that helps retailers succeed. The 10 levels include: Regional Business Developer, Store Planning & Design, Project Management, Regional Training Specialist, Business Advisor, Technology & Equipment, Marketing, Print Shop, People Success (HR), and Customer Success.

 While all Champ’s Chicken franchises typically offer similar items, menus can vary from retailer to retailer because the company helps grocers focus on promoting high-margin items proven as customer favorites for that store’s local market.

Recently, the company added the Smart Menu to Champ’s Chicken, which reduced the number of meals presented with the goal of improving the entire layout of the menu.

“The Smart Menu is also structured in a way to deliver higher rings at the register,” said Griffith. “With labor challenges, ‘simple’ is the key. That, along with focusing on higher margin items, can help you attract the right customers to your hot food program.”

With Champ’s Chicken retailers can offer a consistent product, associated with the national brand, Griffith said.

“In the deli, consistency is what keeps repeat business. The deli is one of highest gross margins areas of the store. Owners and operators need to treat it as such.”

Oil Management with Restaurant Technologies VP Jason Cocco

Supermarket Perimeter: What are the most important steps retailers should be taking to ensure that they're doing proper oil management with fried chicken programs?

Jason Cocco: One: ensuring that they're using really good quality oil. If you're putting bad oil in you're going to get a bad product. Ensure that you're working with a good manufacturer partner that provides you a good high-quality oil. The second thing is ensuring that they're filtering the oil on a set frequency. We recommend two to three times a day for three to five minutes — especially with chicken, and if it's freshly battered chicken, there’s a lot of sediment and the flour and the breading comes off, and that frying process has a tendency to degrade the oil. Lastly, ensuring that you have a good process by which to say, when the oil is degraded too much, let's make sure we put more in.

SP: What technology do you recommend retailers take advantage of to ensure top oil management?

JC: Our automated oil management system, where we put two tanks in the restaurant, and generally the operator of the fryer has to push a button to add oil and dispose of oil that really creates a much more safe environment. It's a lot easier for the employees to operate, and also provides them some tools to understand, as I mentioned earlier about how much oil they're using, how are they filtering it, when they should be filtering and so that's one piece. Another thing that we recently came out with is an option to get rid of their rotisserie grease. Getting rid of the frying grease is an issue for everyone, given the significant growth in rotisserie chickens. Those also have grease that come out of those machines, and they needed something to deal with it and that's generally a very manual process. So we created some solutions to automate how they handle the rotisserie grease as well.

SP: How do your products integrate with existing equipment that retailers may already have?

JC: We work with all the major manufacturers and suppliers. They (equipment) generally come to the location ready. If not, we have a kit that we can hook up so there's no investment in new fryers or other equipment necessary to hook up our equipment. We're compatible and give service to over 30,000 different customers across both retail and restaurants.