The boom in chicken consumption in recent years still has room to grow, according to research released here today by the National Chicken Council and U.S. Poultry & Egg Association.

"While American consumers are eating an unprecedented 81 pounds of chicken per person this year, consumers say they plan to purchase even more chicken in the months to come," said Lindy M. "Buddy" Pilgrim, CEO of Simmons Foods, Inc., who announced the research results.

Also speaking at a conference for food writers here were John Bekkers, chairman of the National Chicken Council and chief operating officer of Gold Kist, Inc., of Atlanta; Greg Lee, chief operating officer of Tyson Foods, Springdale, Arkansas; and Jim Perdue, chairman of Perdue Farms, Inc., of Salisbury, Maryland.

At 81 pounds, chicken enjoys the highest per-capita consumption of any of the major meats, with beef in second place at 69 pounds per person on a retail weight basis. Pork is in third place with 52 pounds.

The new survey, conducted for NCC and USPOULTRY in March by Bruskin Research, found that 89 percent of the respondents ate chicken at least once per week. Some 36 percent of the respondents consumed chicken three times per week or more.

A net of seven percent of consumers indicated they planned to eat even more chicken purchased at supermarkets and food stores in the next 12 months, thus setting the stage for further growth in retail sales.

Pilgrim noted that the survey also showed that 29 percent of the respondents consumed chicken only once a week, and eleven percent eat chicken less than once a week.

"This indicates that we have large groups of consumers who have plenty of room for additional chicken in their household food planning," Pilgrim said.

He added that those who eat the most chicken already are the most likely to say they will eat even more chicken over the next 12 months. Those who eat chicken three or more times per week are more likely than lesser consumption groups to have higher household incomes of $50,000 per year or more, to have children at home, and to have college or post-graduate education.

Bekkers said that chicken is popular partly because it is convenient to purchase and prepare.

"The simple fact is that chicken fits, better than any other meat, the hectic, harried, time-crunched lifestyle that so many people lead today," Bekkers said.

The Bruskin survey used a national sample of 1,009 randomly selected individuals 18 years of age or older. With such a sample, the survey's findings should be within three percentage points, plus or minus, of the true values in the national population in 95 out of 100 cases.