Celebrity chef David Chang is “not a fan,” but plenty of other people are still gobbling up Costco’s legendary rotisserie chickens.
As America’s largest warehouse club continues to grow—now up to 847 locations worldwide and counting—so does its output of the slow-cooked poultry, which Costco CEO Craig Jelinek recently described as “our old reliable.”
The popular deli department standby has remained stubbornly low-priced at just $4.99 for well over a decade now, despite speculation that soaring food costs and other pressures would inevitably prompt an uptick in the price tag.
Costco officials previously said they are “consciously” leaving the price fixed at the same bargain-basement rate to keep customers happy and foot traffic steady. The idea is that shoppers who come in for the cheap chicken usually end up buying a lot of other things, too. That’s why the popular poultry is typically kept all the way in the back of the store.
Since 2020, Costco has sold over 100 million rotisserie chickens annually. A big reason for the high production is the company’s move to bring much of its chicken supply chain in-house, opening a 432-acre poultry plant in Nebraska, which is reportedly capable of processing two million birds weekly.
The same facility has also produced its fair share of controversy for the company, after an undercover investigator from an animal rights group discovered chickens living under allegedly inhumane conditions at the plant.
Those findings led to some rather unappetizing coverage in The New York Times and eventually a lawsuit brought by two of Costco’s own shareholders. An online petition calling on Costco to adopt better chicken welfare standards has since garnered over 125,000 signatures.
Costco’s in-house chicken production also took a hit last year from an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), or bird flu, which prompted the company to euthanize some 500,000 birds at its Nebraska plant.
Yet, despite all these pressures, Costco continues to crank out its trademark deli item in record numbers. During its annual shareholders meeting last week, Costco announced that it sold a whopping 117 million rotisserie chickens in 2022—that’s about 11 million more than the prior year, an increase of about 10%.