Thursday, February 18, 2010

Perdue hatches a new product

I needed to grab a package of skinless, boneless chicken breasts last week to test the Garlic Lime Chicken recipe. Pawing over the packages, I noticed a new label on the Perdue chicken:

"USDA Process Verified: All Vegetarian Diet, No Animal By-Products, Humanely Raised, Raised Cage Free." Since the chicken breasts were reasonably priced, at around the $5 or so I'd expect to pay for three big pieces, I grabbed a pack. It was good, although it's hard to say whether it was noticeably better, since it was swimming in lime-butter sauce.

This morning, Jim Perdue dropped by The Observer to explain that label, the Verifiably Good program. "We're going back to basics," he said. Perdue spent three years working with the USDA to come up with a program for raising their chickens that meets the federal standards for all of those claims.

Perdue made it clear that what he was really interested in was chicken quality. Good feed and better conditions result in chicken that is more tender.

But he also understood that we consumers want some things, too. We want labels with claims that mean something, rather than "fresh" describing chicken that's so close to frozen you can rap on it with your knuckles. We want our chickens raised in conditions that don't break our hearts or turn our stomaches. And yes, we want a reliable product that doesn't cost so much we have to choose between buying chicken and making a house payment.

Besides reading the label, you can go to and find definitions for all the standards on the label.

Keeping the price the same as their old "All-Natural" labeled chicken was important to him, he said. "You know, with this economy . . . " Yes, I know. I really do know.

North Carolina is the site for the new product's rollout. Why here? Well, it's the largest state where Maryland-based Perdue has operations. There's a Perdue cooking plant in Concord, processing facilities in Lewiston and Rockingham, and plenty of chicken farms that are under contract to Perdue.

"And my wife is from here," he said. She's a native of Rocky Mount, and they both went to Wake Forest. (Yes, he has a sister named Beverly Perdue, he's not related to the Beverly Perdue in the governor's mansion.)

To mark the rollout, the company is holding a contest, open to N.C. residents only. Make a video of yourself cooking Perdue chicken and you could win $500 in cash and $520 in coupons for the product. Get details on that at Verifiably Good Web site, too.


Anonymous said...

Did Mr. Purdue invite anyone from the Observer to visit his "humane" facility?

Guidelines for humane poultry labeling can be found at

On page 4 it details the acceptable ammonia levels for the birds, however the UFCW Union website indicates that if an employer "detects ammonia at or above 25 ppm, the employer should evacuate the employees from the affected area." This same level is acceptable for a 5.5lb bird at Perdue.

On subsequent pages it defines appropriate stocking densities for a poultry house (up to 1.5 birds per sqft)and how to euthanize birds that are unable to walk.

Should we be swayed by a fancy label or should a tour of a Perdue facility let us decide what is humane?

Don said...

Finding good quality chicken in Charlotte is ridiculously difficult, and I seriously doubt that this marking effort by Perdue has improved the quality of their products. From the broader perspective, why do we not have much of a choice in chicken in Charlotte? Have out tastes evolved such that dry and card-boardy and appropriate flavors for chicken? Or should we just drown it in a sauce so that we can't tell what the flavor of the chicken is?

I challenge you to taste test of available chicken in Charlotte, simply roasted with salt and pepper and I would love to hear your verdict.

Kathleen Purvis said...

I haven't, but the USDA has. The program is designed to meet federal regulations for humane standards. I'm not defending the brand, but I do think it's a step forward that a mainstream producer is putting its definitions on the label and making them available on its web site.

Kathleen Purvis said...

Don, I don't think that chicken availability is different in Charlotte than it is anywhere else in the country. There are alternatives available to supermarket chicken. I buy locally raised chickens at farmers markets. There are many producers now. A few to look for: Gilcrest Natural Farms, Way of Life Farms, and Red Dirt Ranch. Give some of their chicken a try and see if you like it better.