UK retailer Sainsbury's has said it plans to phase out the sale of battery-reared chickens by the end of next year.

The retail giant, which yesterday (6 August) launched a new range of higher-welfare chickens, said that it is doubling the amount of farm-reared chickens as demand continues to grow.

Sales of higher-welfare chicken have risen 60% since January 2008 when TV chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall launched campaigns to raise public awareness of animal welfare.

The new Sainsbury's chickens are reared on farms inspected by Freedom Food to strict RSPCA welfare standards, the retailer said.

"When we met Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall last year we said that Sainsbury's would do everything it could to improve chicken welfare while providing our customers with choice and good value," said Judith Batchelar director of Sainsbury's brand.

"We are thrilled to see that customers have continued to buy chicken reared to higher standards. It demonstrates the strength of feeling for animal welfare issues."

Sainsbury's expects the demand for Freedom Food chicken to continue to grow and aims to sell an estimated 7.5m British Freedom Food assured chickens per year.

A spokesperson for Sainsbury's told just-food: "We are actually phasing out battery chickens that lay eggs by the end of next year but the story is not about eggs at all, it's about chickens and the fact that we are increasing the amount of higher-welfare chickens, so that all the chickens that Sainsbury's sells will be higher welfare.

"The two chef's TV programmes did have an impact on sales. It's something that we saw prior to the programme. The trend was leading that way, but certainly following the programme there was a hike in sales for higher-welfare chicken. Interestingly, consumer attitude has continued, which is why it's a good time to introduce an extended range."