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Ahead of Thanksgiving, August stocks of frozen whole hen turkeys up 12 percent from 2021 despite avian flu production woes

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

U.S. residents gobble up a lot of turkey each year at Thanksgiving. In anticipation of the holiday, producers raise turkeys and place inventories into cold storage throughout the year, with inventories often reaching peak levels in August. August 2022 storage data indicated that producers prioritized building up supplies of whole hens in time for Thanksgiving despite an outbreak of avian flu in 2022 that set back overall turkey production relative to the previous year. While production of turkey for meat in 2022 was forecast in November to be 7 percent lower than in 2021, total turkey meat in cold storage at the end of August 2022 was 1 percent higher than the same time last year. At the same time, August cold stocks of whole hens, the birds typically served for Thanksgiving dinner, were more than 12 percent higher than the same time last year at 114.4 million pounds, but below the 5-year average. August also marks the latest date by which a turkey chick can mature in time for Thanksgiving. August placements of turkey chicks were 2 percent above the 5-year average, indicating producers were working to make up for lost production earlier in the year. As is typical, September stocks were lower than August’s, falling to 105.4 million pounds but remained nearly 9 percent higher than in September 2021. This chart first appeared in USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook: October 2022.

Grocery store sales of meat by volume spiked at the onset of COVID-19 pandemic

Thursday, September 22, 2022

The stay-at-home orders implemented during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic disrupted the U.S. meat and poultry industries as consumers shifted from purchasing food-away-from-home (FAFH) to food-at-home (FAH). In the weeks before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic, the volume of meat sold in grocery stores fluctuated modestly from between 3 percent below to 8 percent above 2019 sales. When the WHO declared a global pandemic the week ending March 15, 2020, the quantity of meat sold at grocery stores increased sharply to 75 percent above that week’s 2019 sales volume. Meat sales reached their pandemic peak the following week at 84 percent above 2019 sales. This increase in retail meat sales was consistent with overall consumer patterns in March–April 2020, when restaurant closures led to a surge in FAH sales relative to 2019 as FAFH sales fell. After the peak, weekly meat purchases slowed yet remained roughly 30 to 40 percent above 2019 sales for most weeks until mid-May. Sales may have slowed partly because consumers had stocked up on meat supplies in the previous weeks and because FAFH expenditures rose as COVID-related restrictions were lifted. For the remainder of 2020, total weekly sales of meat at retail remained higher than weekly 2019 sales for most weeks. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service COVID-19 working paper, “COVID-19 and the U.S. Meat and Poultry Supply Chains,” published February 3, 2022.

Avian flu outbreak reducing 2022 turkey production

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

The return of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in 2022 has affected poultry sectors, including commercial flocks of broilers (chickens raised for meat), egg-laying hens, and turkeys. In the turkey industry, 5.4 million turkeys have been depopulated because of HPAI exposure. This is equivalent to about 2.5 percent of all turkeys that were commercially slaughtered for meat in 2021. While HPAI outbreaks in commercial facilities have diminished, losses that occurred in the spring have affected USDA’s turkey production forecasts for the remainder of 2022. HPAI’s impact on production is expected to be most significant in the second and third quarters of 2022. Second-quarter production is forecast at 1.29 billion pounds, about 8 percent below the same quarter in 2021. Similarly, third-quarter production is forecast to be about 6 percent below the same period in 2021. The industry starts to raise young birds in July for its November production. USDA projects turkey production to rebound close to previous year levels by the fourth quarter, which includes the Thanksgiving holiday. This chart first appeared in USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, May 2022 and has been updated with June 2022 data.

Recent avian flu outbreak reduces U.S. egg-laying flock

Friday, May 13, 2022

On February 8, 2022, the first case of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) since 2015 was detected in a commercial turkey operation in Indiana. Soon thereafter, HPAI cases were confirmed at commercial operations growing broilers (chickens grown for meat), turkeys, and egg-layers. Because HPAI can spread quickly, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) depopulates flocks at operations where infections have been detected. Though the outbreak spread slowly in February, the number of HPAI cases increased rapidly in March, just ahead of Easter, when U.S. egg producers often expand their flocks to meet the demand for the upcoming holiday. As of May 2, HPAI outbreaks have been reported in 164 commercial poultry operations, including 18 egg-laying facilities. Commercial egg-laying hens represent a majority of the birds affected. On April 1, the U.S. table-egg layer flock was estimated at 305.2 million, reflecting, in part, the 16.9 million birds lost to HPAI in March 2022. APHIS reported that an additional 10.7 million layers were affected in April 2022. As of May 2, more than 29 million layers had been lost to HPAI. During the largest U.S. HPAI outbreak, in 2014–15, the industry lost 43 million egg layers. At the time the first major cases of the 2022 outbreak in commercial egg layers were confirmed, flock sizes were already smaller than in previous years, including their 2017–19 pre-pandemic levels. This chart first appeared in USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, April 2022.

Rising cold storage supplies of U.S. chicken wings contributed to lower wholesale prices at end of 2021

Friday, March 11, 2022

Chicken wings are a popular snack in the United States, especially during seasonal sporting events like the Super Bowl and the national college basketball championships. Their popularity as a takeout food during the early months of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic depleted inventories to their lowest since 2012. Wholesale chicken wing prices began climbing in 2020 as cold storage levels swiftly declined due to pandemic-related supply chain disruptions. At the end of January 2021, chicken wing inventories in cold storage were 27 percent lower than in January 2020. Wholesale prices were 180 percent higher in April 2021 than a year earlier. It was the largest year-over-year percent increase, coinciding with the largest percent decrease in cold storage levels in 2021. Wholesale wing prices peaked at $3.25 per pound in May of 2021, the same month that cold stocks of wings began a recovery that continued through the rest of 2021. As wing stocks in cold storage increased in late 2021, wholesale prices fell—while remaining above year-ago levels. In January 2022, wholesale wing prices averaged $2.68 per pound, 24 cents higher than in January 2021, but down 49 cents from the 2021 peak. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, February 2022.

Unseasonably low October wholesale egg prices reported in advance of 2021 holiday season

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Demand for table eggs tends to increase when holiday gatherings and cold weather encourage home baking and cooking. In accordance, wholesale table egg prices—the prices retailers pay to producers for eggs—tend to increase ahead of holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Leading up to the 2021 holiday season, however, wholesale prices of table eggs in the United States have fallen as effects of Coronavirus (COVID-19)-linked flock adjustments linger. In normal years, producers anticipate seasonal demand by adjusting the size of the table-egg laying flocks and the rate at which they produce eggs. In 2020, COVID-19-related disruptions in the demand for eggs led producers to reduce flock sizes. Flock sizes have slowly rebuilt since the summer of 2020 but remain smaller than the same time in 2019. However, the younger flocks produce more eggs per hen. The higher productivity can offset the effects of the small flock size and support increased production. At the beginning of October 2021 the size of the U.S. laying flock was just above the October 2020 levels and the rate of lay was 1.1 percent higher. This productivity bump is predicted to support about a 1 percent increase in October 2021 table egg production compared with a year ago, leading to a 9.6 percent price reduction compared to October 2020. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Monthly Outlook, published November 2021.

Frozen turkey inventories 24 percent below 3-year average as consumers gobble up supplies

Monday, November 1, 2021

Remembering to defrost the turkey might not be the only challenge families face as they try to get that perennial centerpiece onto the Thanksgiving table this year. As of August 31, 2021, inventories of frozen whole turkeys and turkey parts were 24 percent lower than 3-year average volumes. Stocks of frozen turkey meat typically follow a seasonal pattern, building throughout the year until the fall, when retailers prepare to meet holiday demand. In 2021, the seasonal build-up was less pronounced than usual, and stock volumes appear to have peaked before starting an earlier-than-normal decline. At the end of August 2021, 428.1 million pounds of turkey meat were in cold storage, a 19-percent decrease from the same month last year, and a decline of about 7 million pounds from the end of July 2021. Stocks are lower partly because production of turkeys is lower than average this year. At 474.2 million pounds, August 2021 turkey production was mostly unchanged from the same time in 2020 but below the 3-year average, in part a result of high feed costs. August placements of turkey chicks, down about 4 percent from the 3-year average, are dampening expectations for both turkey production and stocks. August marks the latest date by which a turkey chick can mature in time to be harvested for Thanksgiving. This chart is drawn from USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, October 2021.

Low inventories of chicken, especially wings, constrain supplies as restaurants reopen

Friday, June 11, 2021

As restaurants gradually return to regular operations after more than a year of capacity constraints related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, they may find challenges trying to stock enough chicken and chicken wings to meet growing demand. Broiler (chicken) production in the first quarter of 2021 was down 3 percent from a year earlier, while stocks of chicken meat in cold storage are at record lows. In combination, these conditions create low chicken availability at a time when demand is building. Broiler meat in cold storage at the end of March totaled 700 million pounds, 220 million pounds less than the same time last year and 79 percent of the 3-year-average for March. Chicken wings, which have been in high demand as takeout food during the pandemic, are at their lowest level in cold storage since 2012 and around 17 million pounds below the same time last year. If the chicken industry were to respond by expanding production, rebounds would probably take at least 9 to 12 weeks—the approximate time it takes for a broiler to hatch and reach maturity. This chart is drawn from USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, May 2021.

Robust overseas demand for U.S. meats, led by pork and poultry, drove trade surplus in 2020

Monday, May 24, 2021

The United States is the world’s largest producer of poultry and beef and the third-largest pork producer. Abundant exportable supplies have enabled trade of major U.S. meats and products to run a continual surplus overall, with high demands for U.S. animal proteins in Asia and favorable trade agreements driving quantities exported above quantities imported for pork, broiler meat, and turkey. By volume, broiler meat (broilers are a subset of chickens) was the most traded U.S. meat in 2020. Exports of broiler meat accounted for 92 percent of total poultry (total chicken plus turkey) exports and exceeded imports by almost fiftyfold. Pork exports further contributed toward the growth in the meat trade surplus. In 2020, pork exports were sevenfold higher than pork imports, increasing more than 15 percent, or almost 1 billion pounds from a year earlier. In contrast, apart from 2018, the amount of beef imported by the United States has exceeded exports 7 of the last 8 years. Last year, U.S. beef exports declined more than 2 percent from a year ago, while beef imports rose more than 9 percent over the same period. This trade deficit reflects, in part, a robust U.S. demand for processing-grade beef. Turkey imports were up 72 percent and turkey exports were down 11 percent in 2020, with export levels resulting in a trade surplus for turkey. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s April 2021 Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook.

Tightening egg supply and surge in retail demand pushed wholesale egg prices to record levels in March

Monday, June 1, 2020

As consumers prepared for more at-home meals due to COVID-19, retail demand for many products—particularly eggs—increased sharply in March. This surge in grocery store demand, coupled with supply constraints, caused wholesale egg prices to more than triple in March, reaching an all-time high of $3.07 per dozen. While egg prices were expected to rise in line with Easter, this increase was compounded by COVID-19-related retail activity. Then in April, prices decreased as rapidly as they increased, retreating to $1.05 per dozen by the end of the month. The March swell in retail demand coincided with a nearly yearlong industry effort to correct an oversupply of eggs that caused weaker wholesale prices for most of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. February and March table egg production decreased year over year for the first time since April 2016, driven by a sizeable counter seasonal reduction in the table egg layer flock. Short term measures to increase egg supplies, such as redirecting eggs from food service to retail or increasing egg production, were constrained. Differences in food service and retail egg packing equipment at the farm level limited the number of food service eggs that could be diverted to the retail sector. For the longer term, to increase egg production, any potential flock expansion would take at least 5 months—the time it takes for an egg to hatch and reach egg-laying maturity—to manifest itself in increased egg production. In late April, prices stabilized, suggesting that supply and demand imbalances have eased. This chart is drawn from the Economic Research Service Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Monthly Outlook, published in April and May 2020.

Broiler processing volumes decrease sharply as plants adjust operations in response to COVID-19

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The outbreak of COVID-19 among workers in U.S. broiler processing facilities has slowed the processing volumes of broiler chicken meat, which had previously been running at a steadily high pace. Production of broiler meat in the United States in early 2020 reached a record-producing clip, significantly outperforming the same period in 2019. To support this level of production, processing rates (slaughter) had also reached an all-time high, with first-quarter 2020 volumes reaching an average of 169 million birds per week. With the spread of COVID-19, measures to increase social distancing on the production line, as well as plant closures and workforce absenteeism drove down broiler processing volumes to 155 million birds the week ending April 11 and 150 million the week ending April 18. These decreases of 8 percent and 11 percent, respectively, relative to first-quarter average volumes pushed April weekly processing volumes below levels not seen since 2014. The disruption to broiler supplies, however, was preceded by a significant shift in the demand structure for broiler meat wherein demand from food service declined sharply. While much of this demand transferred to the retail sector, it is unlikely that retail is completely making up for the lost food-service demand. Although prices of some cuts have increased from their recent lows as supplies have tightened, wholesale prices for nearly all broiler products since the beginning of April remain weak, suggesting overall broiler supplies continue to outpace demand. Some of this information is discussed in the Economic Research Service Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Monthly Outlook for March and April 2020 and has been updated using data from the Agricultural Marketing Service.

Record high table egg lay rates in the second half of 2019 drove up egg production despite reduced flock size

Friday, April 10, 2020

In 2019, the United States produced more than 8 billion dozen table eggs, a 2.8-percent increase over 2018. Much of this growth came in the first half of 2019, driven by a larger layer flock—a flock of egg-laying hens—as well as higher egg lay rates. However, this growth resulted in an oversupply of eggs, which put significant downward pressure on egg prices. In response, the industry took measures beginning in June 2019 to downsize the layer flock. For the remainder of 2019, the layer flock inventory fell below or hovered around previous year levels. Nonetheless, table egg production in the second half of 2019 remained 1.5 percent higher over 2018 because of record-high lay rates. On November 1, 2019, the U.S. table egg lay rate reached 82 eggs per 100 layers, the highest rate on record. Lay rates, which have increased by approximately 11 percent since 2000, have been an important driver of growth in egg production. Several factors can affect lay rates, including day length, hen age, nutrition, disease, genetics, and flock management. Egg production decreases with shorter days, particularly during fall and winter, but this can be remedied with artificial lighting. Younger hens and older hens do not produce as many eggs as those hens of peak production age (approximately 26 weeks). Finally, advancements in nutrition, disease prevention, genetic selection, and improved flock management practices have contributed to improving overall hen health, which is associated with good lay rates. In the beginning of 2020, although lay rates continued to trend higher year over year, the layer flock contracted sizably. This tightening of supply has been met with a surge in demand, causing prices to increase in March. This chart is drawn from the Economic Research Service Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Monthly Outlook, published March 2020, and the Livestock & Meat Domestic Data: Production Indicators.

Retail and wholesale turkey prices are breaking with past Thanksgiving trends, leading to growing retail markups

Friday, November 22, 2019

Thanksgiving meals typically include such iconic dishes as pumpkin pie and stuffing, and roast turkey is usually the centerpiece. This year and last, wholesale turkey prices have been sharply lower than in years past. Do lower wholesale prices mean lower turkey prices at the grocery store? Not always. While wholesale and retail turkey price movements are historically correlated on a yearly basis, seasonal factors can disrupt this correlation. Commonly in the past, retail turkey prices during the Thanksgiving holiday season were near annual low points, while wholesale prices were near yearly highs. Between 2014 and 2016, the November markup from wholesale to retail prices for turkey averaged 18 percent, compared with an average 40-percent markup over the entire 5-year period. Beginning in 2017, however, wholesale turkey prices began a sustained decline that was not reflected in retail price movements. The retail markup in November 2017 reached 75 percent and remained high at 70 percent in November 2018. The markup is expected to remain high in 2019 but should contract slightly due to rising wholesale prices. The data suggest that the past relationship between wholesale and retail Thanksgiving turkey prices may be fading, as retail prices have become less responsive to downward movements in wholesale prices. This chart appears in the ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook newsletter released in September 2019.

ICYMI... U.S. inventory of table-egg laying hens grew to its highest levels ever in 2018

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The United States produces close to 7.9 billion dozen table eggs per year, via a population of table-egg-laying hens numbering in the hundreds of million. Once trade and storage are accounted for, this amounts to nearly 279 eggs available per person annually. In 2015, an outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) significantly reduced the Nation’s laying-hen inventories. After reaching a low point in June 2015, inventories began to recover and have since eclipsed previous record highs, reaching nearly 331 million in December 2018. Along with the rise in laying-hen numbers, egg-laying rates have also increased through genetic improvements, reaching over 79 eggs laid per 100 hens per day in December 2018. Currently, the capacity for daily production exceeds approximately 22 million dozen eggs. In 2019, USDA forecasts suggest egg production will reach 8 billion dozen with a domestic availability of 280 eggs per person. A version of this chart appears in the ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook newsletter released in February 2019. This Chart of Note was originally published February 27, 2019.

U.S. inventory of table-egg laying hens grew to its highest levels ever in 2018

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The United States produces close to 7.9 billion dozen table eggs per year, via a population of table-egg-laying hens numbering in the hundreds of million. Once trade and storage are accounted for, this amounts to nearly 279 eggs available per person annually. In 2015, an outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) significantly reduced the Nation’s laying-hen inventories. After reaching a low point in June 2015, inventories began to recover and have since eclipsed previous record highs, reaching nearly 331 million in December 2018. Along with the rise in laying-hen numbers, egg-laying rates have also increased through genetic improvements, reaching over 79 eggs laid per 100 hens per day in December 2018. Currently, the capacity for daily production exceeds approximately 22 million dozen eggs. In 2019, USDA forecasts suggest egg production will reach 8 billion dozen with a domestic availability of 280 eggs per person. A version of this chart appears in the ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook newsletter released in February 2019.

Egg prices rose and remained high during and after the 2014-15 U.S. highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) caused the loss of more than 50 million U.S. chickens and turkeys between December 2014 and June 2015, the largest poultry health disaster in U.S. history. More than 80 percent of bird losses were recorded between April 17 and May 19, 2015. Table-egg laying chickens accounted for a large majority of the lost birds; about 12 percent of the U.S. table-egg laying chicken flock was lost. As production fell, egg prices rose sharply. May-December 2015 prices for consumer-grade eggs were 61 percent higher than the previous year. The price increase far surpassed the production losses on a relative basis, reflecting what economists call inelastic demand, meaning that the quantity demanded of a good is not particularly sensitive to changes in price. Consumers did not cut back on their demand, i.e. purchases, even when prices rose, pushing prices even higher. Price increases for processing-grade eggs, often used by restaurants, bakers, and other commercial operations, rose, too. This reflects commercial users’ inelastic demand due, in part, to the difficulty they face in finding substitutes for eggs in their products. A version of this chart appears in the April 2018 ERS Amber Waves article, "Egg Price Impacts of the 2014-15 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Outbreak."

Broiler weights start 2018 by showing continued growth

Friday, March 23, 2018

U.S. broiler meat production continues to grow, reaching 3.6 billion pounds in January 2018, almost 4 percent higher than the previous year. For the year, USDA expects broiler production to reach 42.6 billion pounds, almost 1 billion pounds more than was produced in 2017, and nearly 2 billion more than in 2016. One of the factors driving higher broiler meat production is a steady increase in the average weight of the birds slaughtered. Weights in January 2018 averaged 6.26 pounds, about one percent above a year ago, and more than 4 percent higher than January 2014. Broiler weights tend to follow a cyclical pattern, peaking during the late fall or early winter and achieving their lowest average weights at the height of the summer, but they have shown year-over-year gains in most months over the past 5 years. This chart is from the Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook newsletter, released in March 2018.

U.S. egg imports surged during and after the 2014-15 highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak

Monday, March 12, 2018

The 2014-15 highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak had a widespread impact on the U.S. poultry sector, hitting egg producers the hardest. The outbreak resulted in the loss of roughly 12 percent of the total U.S. table-egg laying population, which limited production and drove up domestic wholesale prices for all egg grades, including those used for processing by restaurants, bakers, and other food manufacturers. During this period, egg market supplies were bolstered by a very large increase in imports, including shell eggs graded for processing as well as liquid and dried egg products. Before 2015, these imports were marginal, attributable in part to rigorous country certification standards and less competitive prices due to typically robust domestic egg production (the Netherlands, for example, had to recertify after allowing their certification to lapse). After the outbreak, however, monthly imports of these items peaked above 15 percent of the processed eggs available domestically. As production recovered and domestic prices returned to pre-outbreak levels, U.S. egg imports returned to more stable levels, falling by 74 percent in 2017 to total 32 million dozen, just 2 million dozen more than the single month’s total in December 2015. This chart appears in the ERS report, Impacts of the 2014-2015 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Outbreak on the U.S. Poultry Sector, released in December 2017.

The 2014-15 highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak significantly impacted turkey and egg producers

Friday, January 12, 2018

The 2014-15 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak was the largest poultry health disaster in U.S. history. More than 50 million birds were lost to the disease itself or to depopulation, overshadowing bird losses during any previous U.S. outbreak. HPAI resulted in lower commodity production when supplies had previously been growing. USDA’s November 2014 forecasts for 2015 anticipated a 3-percent annual increase in both broiler and turkey production and a 2-percent increase in egg production. These projections, however, preceded the outbreak, which lowered egg and turkey production substantially during and afterward. In contrast, HPAI did not affect broiler production, with production growth continuing through 2015 and aligning with prior forecasts. Egg production declined for about 9 months, with the sharpest reduction occurring from May to December 2015, as production remained 10 percent below 2014 levels. The impact of HPAI on turkey production was initially similar to its impact on egg production, but it rebounded faster. While monthly production for June-July 2015 averaged 10 percent below the prior year, monthly production in August-December 2015 averaged only 5 percent lower. This chart appears in the ERS report Impacts of the 2014-2015 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Outbreak on the U.S. Poultry Sector, released in December 2017.

Eating out market drove chicken’s popularity

Monday, January 9, 2017

Per person chicken consumption in the United States more than doubled over the past four decades. Linking ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability data with food intake surveys from 1994-2008 reveals that the away-from-home market, which includes restaurants with wait staff, fast food places, school cafeterias, and other eating out places, drove much of the growth in U.S. chicken consumption over the 1994-2008 period. The share of total chicken consumption prepared by away-from-home eating out places rose from 41.9 percent during 1994-98 to 46.4 percent during 2007-08. Loss-adjusted chicken availability per person in the away-from-home market was 16.8 pounds in 1994-98 and rose to the range of 22.5 to 24.8 pounds during 2005-08. In contrast, chicken obtained at grocery stores (the food-at-home market) grew by just 2.6 pounds per person from 23.3 to 25.9 pounds. The greater growth in chicken consumption away from home is consistent with the introduction of chicken nuggets, chicken strips, and grilled chicken sandwiches and their rising popularity in fast food and other eating out places. This chart appears in the ERS report U.S. Food Commodity Availability by Food Source, 1994-2008, released on December 28, 2016.