Per capita consumption of chicken in the United States is increasing again after three years of decline driven by the economic recession, National Chicken Council Chairman Bernard Leonard told an audience of food writers and editors in Charleston, South Carolina, this week.  Both the restaurant trade and home consumption are expected to climb, he said.

“As the economy continues to recover, total sales this year at restaurants are expected to increase three to four percent (unadjusted for inflation) and flat to one percent if you take inflation into consideration,” said Leonard, speaking to a food media seminar sponsored by NCC and the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association.  “Chicken will share in that improvement along with other meats.”

The demand for chicken at home is also expected to continue to be strong, Leonard said, citing research showing that chicken was the most popular choice for dinner at home in 2010.  “We expect to continue to build on that level of popularity,” he said.

Consumption per capita of chicken slumped in 2007, 2008, and 2009, with consumers eating less chicken than they did the year before.  A consumption drop for three years in a row is unprecedented.

Food prices are also going up, according to government projections, Leonard said, with food inflation at the wholesale price level in February 2011 running at almost 4 percent, the largest monthly increase since 1974, he noted.

The rising cost of corn is a major driver of food prices, since corn is used to feed both poultry and livestock, he said.  The cost of feed is about 70 percent of the cost of producing a live chicken and 55 percent of the final cost of the product at the wholesale level, he said.

Corn has tripled in price since 2006, due largely to demand from the ethanol industry, Leonard said.

Leonard’s speech and other presentations from the seminar are posted to the Web site