Restaurants seek a distinctive chicken

POLLO FRITO sandwich photo

Restaurants seek a distinctive chicken

With antibiotic-free becoming the norm, operators look for stand-out birds

If you want to impress customers with chicken these days, you’re going to have to do more than market it with a few clean-sounding phrases.

In order to stand out from others in the now crowded space of food from animals not treated with antibiotics, independent restaurants and small chains are turning to heritage breeds and specialty producers. Non-commercial operations are exploring the possibilities of slow-growing chickens that supporters say are less illness-prone, live better lives and taste better.

Crack Shack, celebrity chef Richard Blais’s fast-casual chicken restaurant in San Diego, uses Jidori chicken, a premium brand based in southern California of free-range chickens.

“Which is the same chicken used in Michelin star restaurants,” CEO Michael Rosen told NRN earlier this year. “We get it 24 hours from wandering in a pasture to putting it on a plate.

With KFC’s recent announcement that it would phase out chicken treated with human antibiotics by the end of 2018, such practices are now the undisputed norm within the industry. The Yum! Brands Inc. subsidiary’s announcement came shortly after many other industry commitments to source chicken that hasn’t been treated with antibiotics or at least hasn’t been treated with antibiotics used on humans.  Chick-fil-A made the first “never ever” promise for all of its chicken in 2014, followed by Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. McDonald’s, too, made a commitment, but for sourcing chicken raised without antibiotics used on humans.


It’s not a coincidence that chains are distancing themselves from animals treated with antibiotics.

A recent report from sustainability advocate Global Opportunity Network found that 86 percent of consumers want antibiotic free food and 60 percent are actually willing to pay for them.  Also, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has restricted the use of many antibiotics in all livestock beginning in 2017 due to concerns that treating healthy livestock with antibiotics in order to promote growth would also cause antibiotic-resistant pathogens to emerge.

The cost of standout chicken

For restaurant operators, offering more distinctive birds can come with higher food costs, but unique offerings.

Andrew Gruel, founder of Slapfish, a fast-casual seafood chain based in Huntington Beach, Calif., is planning on using Jidori at Two Birds, a concept that will soon open in a food hall in Irvine, Calif.