The never-ending confusion surrounding the definition of organic is in the coop… the chicken coop, that is.

Many consumers who purchase poultry (46% to be exact) place value on products from companies that support animal welfare, including poultry that is certified organic. Naturally, the retail cost of organic poultry is typically higher than the cost of non-organic poultry; however, the exact meaning of organic within the poultry category can be rather confusing to consumers.

A July 2014 Reuters article analyzed whether this higher cost is warranted when purchasing organic chicken. According to the article, “Just because a chicken is labeled ‘organic’ does not mean that the bird on your plate lived a bucolic farm life before you cooked it.” While the organic claim does mean poultry is raised without the use of antibiotics, other claims such as fresh, natural, free-range, or hormone-free are rather ambiguous and easily misunderstood.

Claims such as natural and hormone-free can be applied to virtually any type of poultry, especially because it is illegal for poultry to contain hormones, and most fresh poultry is natural, that is, it’s free of artificial ingredients and is minimally processed. Free-range claims are potentially misinterpreted because this term can mean the poultry had access to the outdoors for any range of time, whether it goes outdoors or not. While some consumers may prefer to buy organic poultry, there is still room for improvement in helping people understand the true meaning behind “organic” and other similar claims.

Processors can differentiate their products with clear, easy-to-understand claims that make sense to consumers. These claims may go a step beyond simply stating a product is all-natural or organic to include information about the amount of time their chickens spend outdoors, or a lack of antibiotics used to treat chickens, for example. Ultimately, the more information, the better, in helping consumers choose poultry that aligns with their personal preferences and standards.

Amanda Topper is an analyst specializing in the food industry. She is responsible for writing monthly analysis reports providing strategic insight and consultancy across several categories from gluten-free foods and cheese to cereal and snacks.

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