Humanely Processed Chicken May Bring a Premium Price

In 2023, food scientists from Auburn University’s Poultry Science Department conducted a survey to ascertain the perception of poultry processing, specifically stunning processes, among American chicken consumers (“Consumer Perception Survey of Animal Welfare in Broiler Stunning.”, Linda Barahona; Sungeun Cho, Ph.D.) The full survey data are currently being evaluated, but some preliminary findings are especially intriguing on the economic front. 

The following two survey questions were of specific economic interest: A. “Humanely processed (chicken) are animal derived products from animals that have been treated ethically. Are you willing to pay more for humanely processed(chicken)?” – to which respondents could answer Yes, No or Maybe. The next question related to the previous by asking: B. “If the answer to the previous question was ‘Yes’ or ‘Maybe’, how much more are you willing to pay?” Respondents had six choices for B: Less than 10%, 10-50%, 51-100%, 101-200%, 201-300% and Greater than 300%.

Of the 986 respondents, 699 of them (71%) answered Yes (358) or Maybe (341). Of those 699 Yes/Maybe’s, almost 85% were in the first two categories and willing to pay at least 10% more, with half of those willing to go up to 50% more in price for humanely processed chicken. To put the choice ranges in perspective, at the time of this writing, the average regular pack of boneless/skinless breast in the Southeast U.S. was $3.21 (USDA National Retail Report – Chicken, May 17, 2024.) Using the upper end of the ranges above, the respective increased prices someone might be willing to pay chicken would be: $3.50 (<10%), $4.81 (10-50%), $6.42 (51-100%), $9.63 (101-200%), $12.84 (201-300%), or $14.45 (>300%, estimated at 350% increase). Applying these prices to the results would suggest only 15% of those willing to pay more would accept more than an additional $1.60 ($4.81 compared to $3.21) per package of humanely processedchicken breasts. 

While this survey seems to suggest that consumers are indeed willing to pay for chicken that was processed in a perceived more humane fashion, several questions remain. The above prices in dollars were not shared in the survey, those are extrapolations of this author. Further work is planned to evaluate consumer choices with products visually before them with the dollar prices clearly marked, and with one package clearly labeled and understood as “Humanely Processed”. Would the breaking point remain at 50% price increase, or would consumers make different choices with more information? Some of the current survey data suggests increased knowledge of poultry production in general leads to willingness to pay more. Would a clearer understanding of a specific “humane process” in question also impact willingness to pay? All of these are questions being considered for further expanded study.

The results of this work will be important for poultry companies as they consider implementing processes that might be considered more humane, like controlled atmospheric stunning, but can be costly to implement and have increased management requirements. If consumers are willing to pay enough, it might be possible for poultry companies to work with their wholesale and retail customers, like grocery and fast-food businesses, to pass the increased cost of production directly to end consumers. 

Brothers, Dennis. “Building Equity.Southern Ag Today 4(23.2). June 4, 2024. Permalink