Chicken sandwich craze and swine fever to boost 2020 poultry demand

Lydia Mulvany

The U.S. chicken market is leaving a period of oversupply and low prices in the rear-view mirror, according to major supplier Sanderson Farms Inc.

Since November, poultry prices have been ticking up from record lows of the past two years – the opposite of what usually happens at this time of year. Along with positive trade news for chicken out of China and a new-found poultry popularity in U.S. restaurants, 2020 is shaping up to be a winning year for American producers.

This Aug. 22, 2019, file photo shows a chicken sandwich at a Popeyes restaurant in Kyle, Texas. The chicken sandwich craze, along with and international swine fever outbreak, is expected to boost 2020 poultry demand.

“The protein deficit caused by African swine fever in China and other countries, recently well-publicized chicken sandwich features at quick serve restaurants, and expected higher retail pork and beef prices should all support stronger poultry markets as we move into 2020,” Chief Executive Officer Joe Sanderson said Thursday in a statement.

China recently opened its doors to American poultry for the first time since 2015 to help fill a protein shortfall caused by swine fever. Exports are expected to soar, with reports of Chinese buyers showing extreme interest.

While boneless breast meat prices fell 3.4% in fiscal 2019, wholesale jumbo wing prices were up 20% and leg quarters, a commonly exported item, rose 1.3%. Sanderson said its feed costs were flat, with slightly higher grain prices offset by improved bird performance. Cash corn prices were 4.9% higher in fiscal 2019, while soymeal prices fell 10%.

Sanderson’s quarterly sales and earnings were slightly ahead of estimates. An adjusted loss of $1.05 a share was narrower than the average analyst estimate of $1.18 and $1.95 a year earlier.

The company’s shares jumped as much as 7.4% to a record on Thursday. They are up almost 80% this year on expectations that Asia’s pork shortages will boost demand for American chicken.

“Sanderson Farms continues to be well positioned to show significantly improved results in 2020,” Stephens Inc. analysts said in a Dec. 5 report. “We continue to maintain a constructive view on chicken and we are encouraged by recent movements in breast meat and leg quarter pricing.”