Brawk! Rotisserie chickens are flying off the spit

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Rotisserie chicken at Safeway.JPG

Every afternoon, in supermarkets across the country, growing numbers of shoppers swing by an island at the front of the store stocked with hot rotisserie chickens.

Americans bought over 600 million of the freshly roasted birds last year. Even if they're used as loss leaders, at, say, $5 apiece, that's still a decent chunk of change. But the assumption is that many shoppers will also pick up a salad, a side dish, and maybe a bottle of wine.

At Kroger and Albertson's/Safeway markets, the hot chickens are at the front, while at Costco's warehouse stores, they're in the back. Even so, Costco sold 87 million rotisserie chickens in 2017, almost one in every seven birds on America's dinner plates.

For the past decade, Costco has held the line on a $4.99 price point for its chickens. The company is now building a $300-million chicken processing plant in Nebraska to get better control of its supply chain, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Most of the birds sold in the familiar clam-shell containers are young (four weeks) and small (two pounds), and are roasted in industrial ovens. Costco's are older (11 weeks) and heavier.

Stores aim to fill their "chicken islands" for a rush between 3 and 7 PM. A rotisserie chicken has a shelf life of roughly four hours under heat lamps.

It's not hard to see the appeal of a ready-to-eat chicken, especially for grocery stores struggling to keep their customer base. The trend started with the Boston Market chain some 25 years ago, and has now reached the point that some stores are putting chickens in the checkout aisle to inspire last-minute impulse purchases.

"Nothing else from the '90s is still this popular today," said Don Fitzgerald, vice president of merchandising at Mariano's, a Chicago grocery chain.

"When they're right by the checkout, the smell always gets you," said one shopper told the WSJ. Another, at an Albertson's in Manolia, would buy a rotisserie chicken every couple of days for her pug. "He won't eat canned dog food, but he loves chicken skin."

Regardless of who ends up eating it, rotisserie chicken has become known as an "anchor product" purchased by more than half of all American households in the past year.

Note: this post appeared last week, in slightly different form, on

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