The recession is boosting sales of chicken at US retail grocery stores, according to industry executives and analysts.

The amount of chicken sold in larger grocery stores increased about 4% in the year ending in February compared with the previous 12 months, Todd Hale, senior vice president for consumer and shopper insights of the Nielsen Company, told writers at a seminar sponsored by the National Chicken Council and the US Poultry & Egg Association. 

Turkey saw a 3% volume growth, as did pork, while sales of beef were flat and seafood declined about 6%, he said.

“There’s been pretty good growth on a volume basis for the poultry industry,” Hale said, in breaking down grocery store sales data monitored by Nielsen.

Chicken breasts were the leading item with a 5% growth rate, Hale said, adding that nearly all chicken parts saw sales growth during the past year.

Meanwhile, restaurant sales have dropped 10% to 15% in response to the recession, said Monty Henderson, president and COO of chicken company George’s.

The picture however, is brighter at the retail grocery level, said Lampkin Butts, president and COO of Sanderson Farms.

“What we’re seeing at retail is very good demand for chicken products,” he said.  Sales of fresh chicken at retail grocery stores in 2008 were up 7.5% over the year before.

“The other thing we are seeing at retail is substitution,” Butts added.  “Consumers are stretching their food dollar, they are looking for value, and they will substitute lower-priced protein for high-priced beef or high-priced pork.”

Meanwhile, products labelled “organic” have been hit hard by the recession, Hale said, with monthly sales growth dropping from 24% in March 2008 to only 1% in March 2009. The number of products making the “organic” label claim has also dropped, he said.