Chicken into Nuggets
What America does first in fast food, the rest of the world does next.
In 1979, when poultry was becoming more fashionable to eat and sales of beef were wilting, Fred Turner, the Chairman of McDonald’s had an idea for a new meal. “I want a chicken finger-food without bones, about the size of your thumb. Can you do it?” he asked.
After six months of research, the food technicians and scientists managed to reconstitute shreds of white chicken meat into small portions which could be breaded, fried, frozen then reheated. They used chemical stabilisers but also beef fat to enhance their taste.
Test-marketing the new product was positive, and in 1983 they were launched in the USA under the name Chicken McNuggets.
These were so successful that within a month McDonald's became the second largest purchaser of chicken in the USA, after Kentucky Fried Chicken.
The demand revolutionised the poultry industry too. To provide an adequate poultry supply to McDonlad's, Tysons Foods developed a new breed of chicken with large breasts.
By 1992, Americans were eating more chicken than beef, and most of that chicken meat was supplied by Tyson Foods, who dominate the poultry farming business.
Tyson supplies day-old chicks to thousands of independent contractors, and then returns seven weeks later to collect the chickens ready for slaughter.
The chicken grower provides the land, the labour, the poultry houses and the power supplies. Tyson provides the feed, the veterinary services and the technical support.
The competition is brutal, and the profit margins are slender. Half the US chicken growers leave the business after three years, often selling out or losing everything.
As fast food companies spread to other countries, they require the same industrial production of chicken in battery cages. The supplier has to conform to meet the demand.
Children love chicken McNuggets, according to Eric Schlosser. One reason for this may be that they contain twice as much fat per ounce as a hamburger.
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