NATIONAL REPORT — Perception and reality are not always the same. Chicken as a category benefits from the popular opinion that it is a healthy alternative to beef. Lower in fat, this perception does not take into account the reality that many (if not most) chicken foodservice products are fried.
“Grilled chicken does seem to be growing at a faster pace than breaded, but still is very small compared to fried chicken items,” acknowledged Chad Prast, director of foodservice for convenience store chain Murphy USA Inc., based in Arkansas.
Echoing this observation, Chad Vendette, director of marketing at The Broaster Co., said a fresh grilled chicken sandwich isn’t something you’re necessarily seeing in c-stores at this time.
“You’re seeing fried chicken patties. You’re seeing processed grilled chicken in strip form and fully-cooked form being sent in to retailers,” he said. “Very rarely are you seeing c-stores handling raw chicken like a [full-service] restaurant or a fast-casual restaurant might. Very rarely.”
Because of space limitations, it’s not likely grilling will be widely taking place in convenience stores any time soon. However, that doesn’t mean c-stores can’t give their chicken offerings a healthier halo.
Some methods of frying chicken are, indeed, healthier than others. Ergo, choosing your method of frying may be important depending on the desires of your customers — especially in today’s increasingly health-conscious landscape. Choosing a healthier method of frying could be a game changer.
Pressure frying is one “better-for-you” option to traditional frying methods, according to Vendette, whose company manufactures pressure fryers and other chicken/foodservice-related equipment and distributes fresh product to convenience stores through distributors.
“What’s unique about pressure-fried chicken as opposed to regular-fried chicken, or what we call open-fried chicken, is that pressure frying eliminates a lot of the oil absorption that open frying allows,” he explained. Since the chicken is cooked under pressure, it raises the boiling point of the juices inside the chicken and because of that, the juices don’t boil out.
“They stay inside the chicken and marinade in the juices,” continued Vendette. “The oil just becomes a cooking medium and doesn’t penetrate the product itself. So, your nutritionals are much better with pressure frying. It has a healthier component than traditional open frying.”
Broaster finds that frozen products — primarily tenders — are far and away its most popular chicken items. The reasons include lower costs and fewer health concerns when handling frozen foods.
“We have several c-stores successfully selling our Genuine Broaster Chicken products, which includes bone-in and fresh MTO [made-to-order] chicken products. But the bulk of our sales still come from the Broaster Express frozen food line. That includes chicken tenders and popcorn chicken," said Vendette. "You pull them out of the freezer, drop them in the pressure fryer and serve them up.”
According to Vendette, using a pressure fryer has another big advantage to traditional frying aside from the better-for-you aspect. “They hold very well,” he said of foods that are pressure-fried.
“Pressure-fried products have a two-hour shelf life with no degradation in taste or appearance, so a retailer can cook them in advance and stage their holding cabinets for rush periods.”
Editor’s note: Check out the February issue of Convenience Store News for our full report on “Playing Chicken.” A digital edition of the issue can be accessed by clicking here.