Co-op Group switches to higher welfare fresh chicken

The move follows an announcement at last year’s AGM and comes in 10 months ahead of schedule

The Co-op Group has announced today (28 February) that all of its fresh chicken is now bred with a lower stocking density, giving the birds 20% more space, with products now available in store.

All Co-op fresh chicken is now bred to a maximum stocking density of 30kg/m2 – the accepted higher welfare criteria – and gives the birds 20% more space to thrive. The organisation says a multi-million pound investment means the welfare change won’t impact the cost of chicken for customers.

The change was first discussed at the Co-op Group’s AGM in May 2023, after a motion led by the campaign group Humane League UK asked for the adoption of the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC) – a set of standards adopted by Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and the Greggs bakery chain – and report on welfare improvements in a year. It was supported by 96% of the 32,000 members who voted.

Matt Hood, managing director, Co-op Food, said at the time he and the board could not support one of the measures in the motion – a call to adopt breeds of chicken that meet the RSPCA Broiler Breed Welfare Assessment Protocol, due to the current economic environment – but that it would be “actioning asks within the motion” and “putting into action measures to improve stock density”.

Related: Chicken farming row tests the Co-op Group’s ethical mettle

The launch of these measures was planned for the end of 2024. But the Group states that “by working closely, at pace”, with supplier, 2 Sisters Food Group, the higher welfare products are being launched now, in all 2,400 stores in the UK, across all fresh chicken varieties including whole birds, breasts, thighs, drumsticks and wings. The switch will be supported by new packaging, carrying the ‘Space to Thrive’ message, coupled with in-store marketing.

The Group adds that the next phase will see all their British chicken which is used in ‘added value’ poultry products, such as breaded chicken lines, move to be ‘Space to Thrive’ chicken.

“Animal welfare is extremely important to us, our member-owners and our customers, and we work very hard to ensure that all the animals in our supply chain are looked after,” said Sinead Bell, Co-op commercial director. “I’m really proud of our change to reduce stocking density, where we have made a significant investment into poultry welfare to give our chickens more space, leading to an improvement in the natural activity and behaviour, general health and welfare improvements, with a reduction in antibiotic usage. 

“This sits alongside our ongoing commitment that 100% of Co-op protein is sourced from our British farmers.”

All Co-op Chicken exceeds Red Tractor standards, with RSPCA Assured Free Range chicken also available in-store.