Five years ago, Chick-fil-A vowed to eliminate antibiotics from its chicken supply by this year. In May, the Atlanta-based chicken sandwich chain quietly met that goal earlier than planned.
It won’t be quiet about it for long. The company announced the milestone Thursday and said that its packaging next month will indicate that its chicken supply isn’t treated with antibiotics.
“We know consumers care about how their food is made and where it comes from, including the use of antibiotics,” said Matt Abercrombie, director, menu and packaging for Chick-fil-A, in a statement. “Because it was important to our customers, it was important to us.”
The 2,500-unit chain made its promise in 2014 as concern increased about the use of antibiotics in the supply chain.
Antibiotics have long been used to promote growth in chickens, but health advocates worry that it is promoting resistance to the treatment of bacteria that cause staph infections and tuberculosis, among other problems.
Chick-fil-A, in fact, went further than just about any chain, promising to eliminate all antibiotics, while other companies said they would let suppliers treat their sick animals.
The company’s “No Antibiotics Ever” commitment does not allow antibiotics “of any kind” to be administered to the chicken in its supply, starting from the egg. The U.S. Department of Agriculture verifies whether suppliers are meeting those requirements.
It was the largest chain in the U.S. at the time to make such an aggressive commitment.
Chick-fil-A said that its transition over the past five years has required a “significant investment” by both the company and its suppliers. “We felt that if anyone was going to commit to No Antibiotics Ever, it should be us,” Abercrombie said.
The company said that customers back the move. It cited a 2018 Technomic survey indicating that 81% of customers consider “antibiotic-free” to be an issue when they purchase poultry. Technomic is a sister company of Restaurant Business.
Chick-fil-A’s announcement also comes as the chain faces an intensifying battle in the chicken sandwich business it has come to dominate with strong growth over the past several years.
Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen took some market share from Chick-fil-A last month after introducing its own chicken sandwich. And there are suggestions that McDonald’s is working on an upgraded sandwich itself.