Originally posted April 23rd. It…doesn’t taste like chicken.
We were innocently browsing some industry publications this afternoon when we came across ads for two unrelated - but similar and equally frightening - new chicken items from Tyson and Pilgrim’s Pride. Both products are essentially versions of the same thing: flavored, breaded chicken breast filets. Now, where would we be in the world without breaded chicken breast filets? We would have no chicken parmesan, no nuggets…suffice it to say, we’d be bereaved. What would the children eat?
For the purposes of this discussion, by the way, we are treating natural and reconstituted chicken breast filet as more or less the same thing. From a home cook’s perspective (or from the perspective of anyone who lives to eat, rather than eats to live), this is nonsense. One is normal and usable, and the other is an abomination unto the fowl. But for Big Food, they’re approximately the same, give or take a few pennies a unit. And when it’s spiced, breaded, frozen and unfrozen, damned if you’d know the difference.
The consensus has come down from Corporate that America is not eating enough breaded chicken. Tyson and Pilgrim’s Pride are not in the business of steady sales; the m.o. in the chicken biz is expand or die (this is even slowly becoming true for the cages). Each company had a single, possibly brilliant idea, of how to draw some attention to themselves and their products without actually changing anything.
Tyson took a very simple concept - cut a nugget in half, breadthwise - and advertortured it into a frightening new product: Chicken Chips. The marketing material is designed for harried food service administrators, and is granted the insidious URL of kidslovechickenchips.com. You, the canny reader, are not fooled by Tyson’s cheap ploy of using the positive where the normative is appropriate, but as you stare off into the distance, it becomes brutally clear that kids will love Chicken Chips. Why? They will be reminded of the universally loved potato chip, of course, but the secret is in the surface to volume ratio; that is to say, there’s almost twice as much fried per unit of chicken in a Chicken Chip than in a nugget. If you cut a nugget in half, which is what’s going on here, then you have two new surfaces to smother in batter. Kids may like reconstituted chicken breast alright, but they love fried bits of fried.
We have much more respect for Pilgrim Pride’s gambit to up their chicken sales. What they actually did - add spices to the breading - does not represent a culinary revolution. It’s the name they came up with that we love: Filet-Vors! Yes, PP went on a FlavorQuest, scouring the planet for such exotic seasonings as “Salsa Mexicana,” “Spicy Asian,” “Mediterranean,” and “Orange.” Maybe orange didn’t need quotations, but we wanted to maintain our incredulity. In fact, this seems like a much better product than the Chicken Chips, in that it entails an actual change in ingredients and taste. But nothing excites the taste buds like a good pun, especially a risky one that puts “Vors” all out there on its own after the dash.
Ultimately, as queasy as it makes us, we think these are both good gimmicks that will probably sell well in the institutional market, and we wanted to keep you “abreast” of the situation. Incidentally, registration just began for a chicken marketing seminar at Lake Tahoe this July. Why did the chicken cross the country?…
[Photo: Tayto Roast Chicken Chip, which was there first]