The Conundrum of $4.99 Rotisserie Chicken

Costco’s impressively low price Rotisserie Chicken pulls in customers to its stores and provides a genuine treat for a low low price. Last week the company opened its new, extensive production facilities in Nebraska to further its ability to keep delivering the product at that low price point. As numerous articles point out, there is cost and risk associated with this. 

The concerned articles hit on some genuinely important issues around risk, contracts and farming practices. However, they also miss the important fact that many people do live on a budget and welcome low price, good food. Even for those not on a budget, it makes all the sense in the world to save money. 

The direction Costco is setting can be seen from two perspectives:

  • Costco has every right to optimize its production of products to hit a certain price point, or
  • Costco should cease doing this since the system incrementally leads to more and more use of intensive factory farming methods to produce chicken meat. 

This question actually applies not just to rotisserie chickens, but to many processed and fresh meat products.

These industries are continually trading off the need to keep prices low against production techniques that threaten animal health and quality of life. China’s recent extremely serious swine flu outbreak is a frightening example of what happens when things go wrong.

It seems obvious that in the long run, it is a losing proposition to try to pin the costs of these products down in the face of fluctuating base costs, and it is also a losing proposition to simply say that high quality, enjoyable food will simply be out of reach for many people because industrial farming is unpalatable. (Yes, grass-fed beef and organic free-range chickens might be an alternative, but only for the few). 

The only real way out of this conundrum is to innovate on what a delicious protein meal really is. Creating something that is genuinely seen as better and at an equal price point to today’s $4.99 rotisserie chicken. That is a genuinely hard ask. Vat grown meat or today’s plant-based “meats” are making progress but there is a long way to go on both taste and cost. (*) 

Costco is making a potentially rational decision to try to push the chicken envelope a little further, but one would hope they would also throw their lot in with getting “beyond chicken” at some point soon.

It might take a long time for a meat substitute to have it’s own Facebook Fan Page with 100k+ followers but hopefully one day we’ll get there!

(*) Disclosure: I do own some beyond meat (BYND) stock since I believe in the cause, however I’m not expecting this post to move the needle on their share price! 

Photo by TR Davis on Unsplash.

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