Fried Chicken: The Gateway To Greater Produce Consumption

Amy Myrdal Miller - Produce on the Menu

Fried chicken is one of the biggest trends in foodservice this year‭. ‬Fried chicken‭? ‬Really‭? ‬Yes‭, ‬it’s true‭. ‬As beef consumption drops and pork consumption stays flat‭, ‬our chicken intake just keeps increasing‭. ‬Part of this is due‭ ‬to nutrition and health concerns‭, ‬and part of it is due to sustainability messages‭. ‬People believe chicken is better for them and better for the planet compared to other sources of animal protein‭.‬

Amy Myrdal Miller - Produce on the MenuSo how did fried chicken become such a hot trend in restaurants this year‭? ‬According to Michael Whiteman of Baum‭ + ‬Whiteman‭, ‬a NYC-based restaurant consultancy‭, ‬chefs are‭ ‬“obsessing over fried chicken”‭ ‬with a lot of attention being focused on fried chicken sandwiches‭. ‬

The National Restaurant Association’s‭ ‬“What’s Hot 2016‭ ‬Culinary Forecast”‭ ‬shows fried chicken ranks No‭. ‬1‭ ‬as a perennial favorite of chefs‭ (‬diners‭, ‬too‭); ‬chef-driven fast casual concepts ranks fried chicken No‭. ‬2‭ ‬overall for 2016‭ ‬trends‭. ‬

‬Which brings us to Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack and its fried chicken sandwich offerings‭: ‬Shake Shack released its Chick’nShack sandwich nationwide in January 2016‭ ‬after its original ChickenShack sandwich was announced as an LTO‭ (‬limited time offer‭)‬‭ ‬in July 2015‭. ‬

‬The fast-casual Shake Shack concept was founded by industry icon Danny Meyer‭, ‬and anything he does is closely watched and quickly imitated by others in the restaurant industry‭. ‬

How can produce professionals capitalize on America’s love affair with fried chicken?

Have you tried Nashville Hot Chicken yet‭? ‬It’s crack‭. ‬Well okay‭, ‬it’s not crack‭. ‬It’s fried chicken dipped in a sweet‭, ‬spicy sauce‭. ‬KFC is now selling Nashville Hot Chicken‭. ‬So is Yard House‭, ‬part of the Darden restaurant empire‭.‬

Hattie B’s is an original Nashville Hot Chicken restaurant with a cult-like following‭. ‬An online search for Hattie B’s spicy sauce recipe shows the inclusion of lard‭, ‬brown sugar‭, ‬cayenne pepper‭, ‬and other spices‭. ‬It’s not exactly health food‭, ‬right‭? ‬That’s where the opportunity for produce comes in‭.‬

Let’s say you’re ordering a fried chicken sandwich or a bucket of Nashville Hot Chicken‭. ‬In the consumer’s mind‭, ‬ordering a few vegetable side dishes‭ ‬“balances”‭ ‬out the meal‭. ‬“I’ll have the two-piece Nashville Hot Chicken meal with a side of coleslaw‭, ‬and a side of sweet potatoes‭, ‬and a Diet Coke‭.‬”

So how can produce professionals capitalize on America’s love affair with fried chicken‭? ‬Here are some ideas to get you started‭, ‬whether you’re in retail foodservice or produce sales‭.‬

Fried Chicken Sandwiches

Sandwiches need toppings and coleslaws need updating‭. ‬What can be shredded and added to the coleslaw to add more color and flavor‭? ‬If the fried chicken is mild‭, ‬add some heat with chilis or cayenne pepper in the dressing‭. ‬If the fried chicken is spicy‭, ‬keep the coleslaw on the milder‭, ‬sweeter side with shredded apple‭. ‬While kale is falling out of favor‭, ‬think about other cruciferous vegetables that add a health halo‭, ‬like shaved Brussels sprouts or Kalettes‭. ‬And consider the dressing‭. ‬What can you add to the coleslaw dressing in terms of spices‭, ‬herbs‭, ‬and aromatics to add a new twist to a familiar favorite‭?‬

Fried Chicken Dinners

Here is where the options are endless for produce‭. ‬From simple sides like watermelon and corn-on-the cob to more chef-driven options such as sweet potato salad‭; ‬jalapeno mac and cheese‭; ‬collard greens with house-made vinegar‭; ‬a watermelon and feta salad‭; ‬or a roasted poblano‭, ‬corn‭, ‬and black bean salad‭; ‬there are so many ways to entice diners to add more produce to their fried chicken dinners‭. ‬


I love seeing restaurants that use produce in summer beverages and cocktails‭. ‬Strawberry lemonade is adored across this country‭ ‬while diners in Northern California‭, ‬where I live‭, ‬swoon over options like lemon verbena iced tea with frozen blackberries‭. ‬Frozen berries and grapes can be used as ice cubes in a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks‭. ‬From a sensory perspective‭, ‬the acid from fresh produce can offset the richness of fried chicken‭. ‬And the addition of a few cucumber and lemon slices to ice‭ ‬water can make the water feel more special‭ ‬‮…‬‭ ‬and the chicken feel more healthful‭. ‬

A Final Note About Fried Chicken‭ ‬

A few years ago at a Produce for Better Health Foundation meeting‭, ‬Harry Balzer‭, ‬chief industry analyst and vice president of the NPD Group‭, ‬was talking about U.S‭. ‬food intake trends‭. ‬He asked the‭ ‬
audience‭, ‬“How many of you have eaten fried chicken the past month‭?‬”‭ ‬Not a single hand was raised‭. ‬Balzer laughed as he said most audience members at every conference he speaks at sit on their hands when asked that question‭. ‬

He went on to explain that NPD data show fried chicken consumption has been steadily increasing in this country since the 1980s‭.‬‭ ‬Even though we don’t admit to loving fried chicken‭, ‬most of us do‭. ‬Fried chicken is not a trend that will soon disappear‭. ‬Let’s embrace this delicious trend and figure out how produce can capitalize on it‭. ‬

Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, FAND is a farmer’s daughter from NorthDakota, award-winning dietitian, culinary nutrition expert, and founder and president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, Inc. Learn more about her business at Follow her insights on food and flavor issues on Twitter @AmyMyrdalMiller.