The Better Chicken Commitment is here to stay, says 2 Sisters, as it confirms 20% of production is now grown to the standard
2 Sisters Food Group has now moved more than 20% of its production, amounting to around two million birds per week, to the standards which meet the Better Chicken Commitment at a minimum. The group’s poultry operation currently processes more than 10.5 million chickens every week in the UK and Europe.
For the UK’s biggest chicken producer, 20% is a significant proportion, given that 95% of the retail chicken market is grown to Red Tractor standard requirements.
In an interview with Poultry Business, agriculture director Nick Davies says he expects demand for BCC chicken to increase further, and avian influenza may accelerate this process, as fewer organic and free-range birds reach the market. Indoor chicken, slower grown with lower stocking densities may end up being the preferred option for some poultry businesses if avian influenza (AI) continues to circulate in the way it has done over the past year.
“I believe the dynamics with tiering we currently have in the UK will get challenged because of the AI position,” says Davies. “Can we actually protect the health and welfare of these birds by saying we won’t have as many organic and free-range birds? Maybe that tiering becomes more of a BCC offering and one of those [free-range or organic] tiers maybe disappears in the future. “It is becoming very difficult to grow organics,” he adds, citing very high feed prices as well as avian influenza.
The work 2 Sisters has done to increase its supply of BCC birds to two million a week has taken a lot of effort. The poultry operation’s agricultural team have been responsible for implementing the gradual change to higher welfare birds – a process which started more than two years ago across the estate of 60 higher welfare farms in the UK and 177 in Europe.
“This is one of the biggest generational changes for a product offer I can think of in my career,” says Davies. “I’m very proud to lead the agriculture team here at 2 Sisters to make all this happen, but it’s also down to the breeders, planners, farmers, processing sites and commercial teams for it to be delivered.”
With a lower stocked bird that is kept on farm longer than standard birds, it is more important than ever to minimise wastage and get the most out of each flock and protect margins as far as possible. This has taken a huge amount of work and planning, says Davies.
“It takes a massive mind shift change from the old traditional way of saying we are going to give you a small, medium, large and extra-large whole bird, and we are going to give you a pack of white meat and portions of this number.
“It is about how do you utilise the flock even more so? How do you match X number of farms with X number of birds, with your kill profile, with your daily demand? Our supply chain mapping and planning was so intense. We, as the supplier, the farming base and the retailer really had to look at the offer to the consumer, to make sure that carcase balance was thorough.
“You completely review what you offer with agriculture, with planning, with supply chain, with retail. The absolute necessity when you’re dealing with BCC is to get all those minds together.”
Currently, 2 Sisters is using the Hubbard JA87 for its BCC products, but is running some trials with the Redbro, which other businesses such as Morrisons have chosen to use because of its favourable FCR compared to other slower growing birds.
It is clear producing BCC birds takes a significant amount of extra investment, in terms of space, feed and time for them to grow. But Davies says 2 Sisters is well placed because founder Ranjit Boparan owns a large farming
“Ranjit has been quite good at building his property portfolio up over a number of years and our ability to grow and make those decisions at pace has been easier because we have that land space. It isn’t easy but it makes it easier for us to achieve that,” says Davies.
“With two years in the planning we were able to build more farms to compensate for the growth, but also we were able to basically extend the estate within the business portfolio that Ranjit already had.”
With enough space on the ground, the next challenge is the additional expense of keeping the birds on the ground for longer. “We’ve made the decision to take a cycle out [over the course of the year],” says Davies.
“Also, you’re feeding those birds an extra 10 days on a cycle. You’re also dropping your feed conversion rate.”
2 Sisters’ BCC production is used to supply Marks & Spencer as well as some other retailers. Two months ago, M&S completed the process of transitioning all its fresh chicken supply chain to BCC standards. Demand has been strong, says Davies, and the M&S customer “gets it” as a brand based on welfare.
While he expects demand for BCC chicken to grow with other UK customers, Davies believes most other retailers will continue to predominantly sell standard Red Tractor chicken. “The market is looking at the M&S commitment and that is being used as a barometer. Let’s see what happens,” he says.
One of the issues frequently raised within the poultry industry about the BCC is that it has been driven not by market demand, but by NGOs developing the standard then encouraging retailers to commit.
There are numerous examples over the past decade or more of retailers introducing indoor-reared chicken products marketed as being higher welfare, which flopped. Communicating the benefits of a higher priced product that doesn’t bear the words ‘free-range’ or ‘organic’ has been very difficult.
“We have done some trials with some retailers where the level of waste has been higher with BCC birds, so they have said, strategically, can you step away and go back to giving us free-range and Red Tractor,” says Davies.
Price is such an important factor for many consumers, that the idea of the major retailers declining to sell Red Tractor standard birds is unrealistic any time soon. “We as a business are driven by the consumer,” says Davies. “The key point is choice. If people can make the choice of being able to afford that price and afford that lower stocked bird, that’s got to be driven by them.”
However, he thinks the current 20% production is set to increase. “We are committed to increasing it should the retailers and consumers demand it.”
THE BETTER CHICKEN COMMITMENT (BCC) WAS CREATED BY ANIMAL WELFARE NGOS IN 2019 AND IS A SET OF SIX CRITERIA THAT NEED TO BE MET BY 2026. THESE INCLUDE:
- Compliance with all EU animal welfare laws and regulations
- Not exceeding a stocking density of more than 30kg per sqm –
which is 30% more room than ‘standard’ protocols, giving chickens
more room to roam
- Use higher welfare breeds of chickens that are grown more slowly
- Provide an enriched environment for the birds in barns
- Birds must be slaughtered using humane methods
- All companies must be third-party audited at regular intervals.