Pulling the Wool Over a Chicken's Eyes Saves on Feed

Times Staff Writer

No one ever claimed that chickens were intelligent creatures, and a recent report indicates that the birds are, in fact, actually dimwitted.

A study conducted at Loughry College in Northern Ireland found that chickens will grow to market size on less food than normal if they believe it is night more often than daytime.

Researchers were able to deceive the birds by placing them in a fast-paced environment where lights were on for only one hour between periods of darkness lasting from two to three hours. The chickens were also fed a high-energy food.

Intermittent lighting is a radical departure from traditional chicken farms where 23-hour blocks of light are separated by only one hour of darkness, according to California Farmer magazine, which reported the study.

The reason chickens respond to the frequent darkness is that "the (infrequent) light encourages the birds to eat and gain the most weight possible," the magazine stated. Under normal conditions there are few encouragements for the birds to feed, and warm weather will actually discourage them.

Still to be determined is whether the chickens raised in darkness are preferred eating at dinner or at lunch.

Checking Out Grocers--Consumers are constantly being polled on their attitudes and preferences on all aspects of the food industry. However, few pollsters have thought to query people at the other end of the cash register about their views on the public.

Just such an opinion survey was taken of grocers in the past year and, not surprisingly, the results are worth nothing. The survey included opinions from 210 food retailers nationwide. Statements were designed to measure responses in three categories: often, sometimes or never.

The statement that most of those polled seemed to agree on was: "No one seems to realize how small our (profit) margins are." Forty-seven percent of those queried said this was a feeling that they often had, according to Progressive Grocer magazine. (Profit margins for the supermarket industry on average are estimated at about 1% of total sales.)

Eighty percent said they sometimes, or often, felt, "No matter what they say, the only thing customers really care about is bargains."

Other statements most grocers agreed with included: "Customers think we are ripping them off;" "No matter how hard we try, or what we do, customers don't think twice about taking their business to another store;" and "People are prepared to wait almost anywhere else, but are resentful over a brief delay in a supermarket."

One statement that most supermarket executives seemed to disagree with was: "Store personnel can't get their work done because customers keep interrupting them with questions or to ask for special services."

Improved Airline Food?--Most air travelers would be hard-pressed to acknowledge the trend, but airlines are spending more on passenger meals than ever before.

The total spent by U.S. carriers alone reached an estimated $1.2 billion in 1984 up from $1.1 billion the year before. The cost of food as a percentage of the airlines' total operating costs also increased from 3.1% in 1983 to 3.2% last year, according to a report in Restaurant & Institutions magazine.

"Airlines are emphasizing expanded menus, offering everything from Muslim meals to delicatessen platters and gluten-free entrees," according to the article. "The overall quality of food is being upgraded. . . ."

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