Chicken feet or paws could almost be considered a waste product in the US but are in high demand in China, according to the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council.
While they are available only in some niche markets in America, where they are also known as phoenix talons, they are eaten everywhere in China and are in such demand that they are often more expensive than actual chicken meat.
“It’s an oddity similar to chicken preferences in the US where wings are so popular that they are valued more highly than the rest of the bird,” notes the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council (USAPEEC), adding that huge volumes of chicken feet/paws are shipped to China from US poultry producers since the market reopened to US poultry exports in November 2019.
The demand for paws in China has proven to be a financial windfall for producers in the sector in the US. Without it, says the USAPEEC, US companies would have no alternative but to sell paws to renderers “for just pennies on a pound”. Instead, in China, they command an average price of nearly US$ 1.10 per pound, and that difference goes “straight to the bottom line”.
The value of paw exports now is about 6 times what it was in 2014.
For the first 5 months of this year, paw exports totalled just over 105,000 mt with a total value of nearly US$ 254 million. In the first 5 months of 2014, exports totalled about 31,000 mt with a value of US$ 39 million.
In 2020, more than 201,000 mt of paws were exported to China from the US, generating revenue of US$ 460 million. Paw exports to China have continued in 2021, with the US becoming the dominant supplier with a 44.8% market share so far this year.
US paws are particularly desirable in China because of the size of US chickens, says the USAPEEC. If current trends continue, the US will set another record in 2021 for the value of paw exports to China.
“The main reason our industry wanted to regain access to China after 5 years was to be able to export paws,” said USAPEEC President Jim Sumner. “But we didn’t expect such tremendous demand for our product.”