The legacy of the rotisserie chicken: grocery stores’ golden goose

Rotisserie chickens are cheap, ubiquitous, and extremely profitable for brick-and-mortar grocery chains in a time of uncertainty.

January 11, 2018

Last year, Americans purchased no less than 625m rotisserie chickens at grocery chains across the country.

In an age where brick-and-mortar grocers are getting crushed by Amazon and food delivery titans, these little pre-cooked birds are a beacon of light. Priced low and sold ready-to-eat, they’ve been a primo attraction for grocery stores looking to lure in shoppers for more than 20 years.

So primo, in fact, that certain chains are now investing big bucks in optimizing their rotisserie chicken supply chains.

How’d it all begin, grandpapa?!

Well kids, back in the early ‘90s, Boston Market (then Boston Chicken) started serving up rotisserie chickens as on-the-go “convenience” meals — and sales went through the roof.

Grocery chains started catching on to the craze: by ‘94, Costco and Kroger were on the chicken train, and by ‘98, Safeway, Albertsons, and many others came aboard.

These chains price their chickens super low (anywhere from $4.99 to $7.99), and consider them to be a “loss leader” — an enticing product they didn’t necessarily profit from, but that would entice customers to buy other things, like high-margin side dishes (conveniently placed by the chickens).

The rotisserie chicken supply chain

The astounding success of rotisserie chicken sales in recent years — and unflinching desire to keep them at a low price-point — has prompted stores to invest heavily in streamlining their chicken infrastructure.

Costco, the undisputed king of rotisserie chickens (they sold 87m of them last year, or 14% of the entire market) is throwing down $300m to build their own poultry processing plant so they can knock out the middle-chicken.

They also, like other grocers, use a number of tricks to make rotisserie chickens seem like a better deal than they actually are, including injecting the meat with up to ½ a pound of salt water.

But that’s kind of hard to complain about when you’re paying $4.99 for a 3-pound bird pre-garnished with lemon and pepper.

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