Chicken Post Redux — An Update and Response

Hi Everyone –

Adam here.

Our post on switching from Murray’s Chicken to Nature’s Sensation Chicken by Allen’s has received some attention so I am writing to clarify a few points and explain our position on the topic. Here goes.

We’re big fans of Murray’s chicken.

They’ve been a great partner to us since late 2008, and it’s entirely possible that we’ll work with them again in the future. We never claimed nor meant to imply that Murray’s chicken was commodity chicken, and it should never be described as such. If this was misconstrued, we sincerely apologize. For the record, Murray’s chicken is NOT commodity chicken.

Allen’s new line of Nature’s Sensation Chicken is not commodity chicken either.

We’ve done our homework on Allen’s (countless hours of research, conversations and a visit to one of their farms, a processing facility, etc.), and we stand by our decision to serve their Nature’s Sensation product. Let me clarify as to why.

Nature’s Sensation Chicken is antibiotic-free (ABF).

This is absolutely critical as far as we are concerned – it’s the most important criterion in our hierarchy. ABF means that to the extent a chicken falls ill, it cannot be treated with drugs and sold as an ABF chicken. All ABF chickens are held to this standard.

How is this different from commodity chickens? Commodity chickens are packed into environments whereby the opportunity for illness is relatively high, thus necessitating the administration of antibiotics and/or other drugs when they fall ill. These chickens are then sold to consumers.

We buy only ABF chicken from Allen’s, and their chickens are raised in humane ways (more on that below) that make them much less susceptible to falling ill.

Tracing back their roots over 90 years, Allen’s primary business has been that of commodity chicken. This is 100% true. But the chicken industry has changed dramatically over the last 90 years, and Allen’s has changed with it.

Over the past decade or two, we have all embraced higher standards for the foods that we eat, and we now hold our food producers to much higher standards. This is a great thing and a big part of our food philosophy here at The Pump. As this has occurred, demand for naturally-raised, antibiotic-free chicken has grown and new brands have come into the marketplace to satisfy this demand (Bell and Evans, Coleman, Freebird, Murray’s, etc.).

Similarly, Allen’s began to develop a program to support a new line of ABF chicken under the name Nature’s Sensation. This product is NOT commodity chicken.These birds are not stuffed into tight quarters and injected with antibiotics to keep them artificially “healthy” so they can grow and be processed. They are fed a vegetarian diet that is completely different than that of the commodity chickens. Allen’s has protocols in place for the proper separation of ABF birds from the commodity birds that allow for proper traceability all the way back to the extent they would ever need to conduct a recall. We have seen these protocols firsthand, and they are sound.

We would encourage you to visit the farm as well as those of other ABF producers to compare their operations yourselves. We have done this for both Murray’s and Allen’s.

In general, we are always speaking with folks who process ABF chicken because we realize that as we build more restaurants, our volume requirements will grow, and we will not likely be able to rely on a single supplier. We began to speak with Allen’s several months ago, and after visiting their facilities in Delaware, meeting with the people and seeing the birds, we decided that their Nature’s Sensation line of chicken meets our standards. We have been working with their chicken for over a month now.

We appreciate that the optics of working with a large producer with a line of ABF chicken are not ideal. One might assume that, given their history as a large producer, they could never really produce, market or sell anything but commodity chicken. But we visited both a growing house and a processing facility, and we feel differently.

We acknowledge that Allen’s Nature’s Sensation Chicken is not Certified Humane.

While Allen’s ABF chicken meets (and often exceeds) the standards of several certifying bodies, it does not carry the Certified Humane certification. The only brandon the market today that carries this certification is Murray’s. This is great and one of the many reasons we’re big fans of Murray’s chicken.

But as a large buyer of chicken, it is impossible for us to limit ourselves to working with just a single chicken producer. There are several very high quality, non-commodity brands on the market, and for the reasons discussed above, we have chosen Allen’s line of Nature’s Sensation Chicken. If this is a deal-breaker for you as customer, then we respect your decision and hope you’ll give us another shot someday.

One last point of clarification. It seems that many people are concerned about the fact that we serve chicken that is not raised outdoors. The unfortunate truth is that we have never served chicken that is raised outdoors – Certified Humane, Murray’s or otherwise. Every ABF chicken producer (that we know of) in this day and age raises their chickens indoors. This is not to say that we would not support and embrace outdoor growing conditions – we would if it were practicable. But the reality is that it is not – most chickens (at any level of scale) are grown indoors.

Where we go from here.

As we move forward, we will continue to research and gather information from Allen’s and other potential partners. The exchange we have had over the past week has pushed us to dig further with Allen’s and make sure that we’re comfortable with our decison. For that, we sincerely thank you. And we assure you that to the extent that new facts are brought to light that change our view, we will absolutely make a change.

That being said, we as a company put a lot of stock in what we are able to see with our own two eyes and touch with our own two hands. Labels and certifications are important, but as many of us know, they do not always tell the full story. The integrity of the food we serve and the transparency with which we serve it are at the very core of what we do and this will not change. Ever.

Thanks again for reaching out and sharing your opinions. Your comments and feedback are making us better at what we do, and for that we’re very grateful.

Adam