Why has Costco kept its price for rotisserie chickens at $4.99 since they were first sold in 2009, despite inflation? Costco knows that cheap chicken helps to bring customers through the door, who then spend money on other products with greater profit margins. Costco capitalizes on this trend by selling rotisserie chickens in the back of the store. However, the low price point comes at a high cost for the welfare of the chickens, the environment, and public health.
Is Costco chicken good for you?
Costco chickens are raised on factory farms by the tens of thousands. These industrial farms have a profound impact on the environment and public health at large, and have severe implications for the communities directly surrounding the farms.
Some of these effects are far-reaching. Intensive farming operations result in the production of large amounts of ammonia, nitrous oxide, and methane. These emissions drive climate change, degrade soil, and pollute air and waterways. The sheer number of chickens raised on factory farms also requires that feed be brought in from other locations, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. Antibiotics are likely to be emitted in the waste that is produced by the farms, driving the antibiotic resistance crisis.
On a more local scale, the dust produced by factory farms is likely to contain various harmful chemicals, feces, and even bits of feathers and flesh. Exposure to this dust has been linked to the development of respiratory diseases. The ammonia-laden odors produced by factory farms also impact on the health and well-being of the workers at the farms and can even affect health in settlements in the near vicinity.1
Why are Costco chickens so cheap?
Costco has consistently sought ways to reduce the cost of producing their rotisserie chickens, and has succeeded primarily by doubling down on factory farming chickens, which externalize costs on the environment, workers, and farmed animals. Costco has also by vertically integrated its supply chain to gain more control and keep costs low, all while resisting calls for higher animal welfare that could increase production costs. In 2018, Costco broke ground on a new poultry processing facility in Nebraska designed to process more than two million chickens per week. Many local farmers, land owners, and advocates united to oppose the multinational company’s “cradle-to-grave” vertical integration, but Costco proceeded over their objections.
The poultry processing facility is part of a larger complex that allows Costco to control the chicken supply chain from the factory all the way to store. The complex cost the company $450 million to construct and is expected to save it up to $0.35 a bird. Though this may seem like a small amount, the chain sells more than a hundred million rotisserie chickens every year, so that adds up to more than 35 million per year in increased profits or potential savings.
Though Costco stands to save money by vertically integrating its chicken supply chain, the cost to local farmers is likely to be high. Before the chickens are slaughtered and processed, most live in warehouses operated by farmers with nearby land. However, the specifications of how the birds are raised remain under Costco’s control. Though Costco markets their business to farmers by suggesting they can expect to pocket upwards of $90,000 a year through these contracts, experts argue that their true income is closer to $60,000.
When it comes to chickens raised for meat, the birds have been bred over generations to grow very quickly. Motivated by reducing costs and increasing profits, this genetic abuse has resulted in severe health conditions and poor welfare. Costco has shown no inclination to use birds with higher welfare genetics. In 2021, Costco announced an updated animal welfare policy following pressure from farmed animal advocates, yet critics have continued to pressure the company to do better, citing environmental and welfare concerns related to their farms.
What’s in a Costco rotisserie chicken?
You might expect the only ingredients in a rotisserie chicken to be chicken and spices, but this isn’t the case. Costco rotisserie chicken lists 11 ingredients on its labels. They are: chicken, water, salt, sodium phosphates, hydrolyzed casein, modified corn starch, sugar, dextrose, chicken broth, isolated soy protein, monoglycerides, and diglycerides.
What are Costco rotisserie chickens injected with?
Many of the ingredients found on the label of a Costco rotisserie chicken are injected into the flesh of the bird. This is typically done to add flavor.
Does Costco rotisserie chicken contain antibiotics?
As part of its animal welfare policy, Costco has signaled that it intends to reduce antibiotic use. A survey it sent to its chicken suppliers found that 97 percent of its Kirkland Signature products (including rotisserie chickens) were raised without the “routine use” of antibiotics that are also used to treat people. However, “routine use” is undefined. If no routine use means that antibiotics are only administered once per flock, that would still mean all birds in the flock received antibiotics. Costco has resisted requests from their shareholders to publish quantitative data showing progress away from the overall use of antibiotics in their chickens. Costco has not released an analysis of their chicken products to support the survey’s results.
Does Costco rotisserie chicken contain hormones?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture prohibits the use of hormones in raising any poultry in the United States. Therefore, the chickens that are slaughtered to become Costco’s rotisserie chickens do not contain any added hormones.
Why are Costco chickens so big?
The average Costco rotisserie chicken weighs three pounds fully cooked. The birds raised for Costco are broiler chickens who have been genetically modified through breeding to grow very large, very quickly. About 100 years ago in 1925, chickens lived for 112 days before being slaughtered at 2.5 pounds. Modern chickens, such as those raised by Costco, are slaughtered at only 47 days but at 5 pounds weigh more than double what their ancestors weighed at slaughter.
Costco rotisserie chickens are what the industry calls “small birds.” Hybrid breeding techniques have also produced “heavy birds,” who are 8-9 pounds when alive and are usually sold cut up as chicken products. All of these birds, large and small, are raised by the tens of thousands on modern chicken farms better known as “factory farms.”
Costco rotisserie chicken FAQs
Are Costco chickens factory farmed?
The chickens who are raised for Costco spend their short lives on factory farms. The farms compromise not just the welfare of the chickens but the health of the workers they employ and of the people living in surrounding communities. Those who live near Costco supplier farms have characterized the stench they endure as “the death smell,” which is nearly inescapable.
What conditions are Costco chickens raised in?
Footage from a Costco supplier farm shows the conditions in which the chickens are raised. In the video, chickens can be seen struggling to walk or flipped onto their backs, their bodies missing feathers. At one point a worker digs through a pile of dead chickens with a shovel. The chickens raised on the farm are sold to Lincoln Premier Poultry, which in turn sells them to Costco.2 As pointed out by a Lincoln Premier Poultry spokesperson, Jessica Kolterman, the video depicts nothing out of the ordinary for factory farms.
Do stores use chickens that are close to their sell-by date to make rotisserie chickens?
There has been some speculation that the chicken carcasses used to make rotisserie chickens come from those that are close to their sell-by date. This claim originates with an article that found the claim on Reddit. Though this may be the case at some grocery stores, Costco sells millions of rotisserie chickens a year. Even if some of these birds are roasted near their sell-by date, the majority of them are purchased with the intention of preparing them rotisserie style.
Why does your Costco rotisserie chicken look pink?
Many who choose to eat a Costco chicken have returned home to find that their bird appears pink inside. One recent viral photograph caused debate about whether or not these chickens were undercooked. Though caution is always warranted when consuming chickens due to the risk of foodborne illnesses—the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about a million Americans catch foodborne illnesses from eating poultry every year the pink color could be due to a variety of factors involved with the preparation and genetics of the chickens.
Why is Costco chicken so soft?
The chickens slaughtered, cooked, and sold as rotisserie chickens at Costco are only a few weeks old. Some people associate rotisserie chickens at Costco with a soft texture of meat and meat that falls off the bone. These are the result of the young age of the birds, coupled with the cooking method and injected solution.
Why does Costco chicken taste different?
Consumers of Costco rotisserie chickens have recently been noting a chemical-like flavor to the birds they’ve been bringing home. Some who claim to work at the store say that the chemically flavored chickens are those supplied by Foster Farms which are lower quality than those raised and slaughtered within the Costco supply chain. Others suspect that the flavor could be the result of packaging or changes to how the chickens are being raised. Costco has not confirmed or denied any of these theories.
Is Costco rotisserie chicken organic?
The rotisserie chickens produced by Costco do not meet the USDA requirements for organic foods. Even such organic certification wouldn’t ensure that the chickens hadn’t been factory farmed. To understand common food certifications, take a look at our label guide.
Is Costco rotisserie chicken kosher?
According to the Costco wholesale department, their rotisserie chickens are not Kosher.
Is Costco rotisserie chicken halal?
According to the Costco wholesale department, their rotisserie chickens are not Halal.
Are Costco rotisserie chickens healthy?
Despite their high sodium content, many believe that Costco rotisserie chickens are healthy for individual consumers if eaten in moderation. Yet factory farming has huge impacts on public health in the form of pollution, antibiotic resistance, increased pandemic risk, and contributions to climate change.
What are some healthy alternatives?
Many consumers are drawn to Costco’s rotisserie chickens by their low price point and the assumption that they are healthy. Yet there are alternative sources of protein that can be enjoyed at a similar price without the high sodium content. Recently, the internet was taken by storm by homemade seitan recipes. These recipes result in a product that is high in protein and, because the amount of salt can be controlled by the person making it, are likely to be lower by far in sodium than rotisserie chickens. Seitan is also highly versatile and can be used on sandwiches, eaten by itself with sauces, or added to soups.
If you are interested in shifting some of your food choices, for the sake of your health, the planet, animal welfare, and workers, see our page about changing your diet.
The millions of chickens raised by Costco every year to be sold as rotisserie chickens endure great suffering during their short lives. Though Costco has made moves to improve their welfare standards following some pressure, ultimately the low price of rotisserie chicken at the checkout conceals an unacceptable cost to animal welfare, the environment, and human health.