Perdue is trying to find just the right slow-growth breed, and it has a strong incentive: A fast-growing cohort of companies that buy vast quantities of poultry, including Whole Foods Market and Panera Bread, are demanding meat from slow-growth chickens, contending that giving birds more time to grow before slaughter will give them a healthier, happier life — and produce better-tasting meat.
“We want to get back to a place where people don’t have to put a marinade on their chicken to make it taste like something,” said Theo Weening, who oversees meat purchasing for Whole Foods and recalls how his mother bought chicken by breed in the Netherlands, where he grew up.
Mr. Weening is realistic, though. “We have to figure out how can we make this happen so we’re not ending up with a chicken nobody can afford,” he said.
That is the big challenge for chicken producers. Dr. Stewart-Brown, of Perdue, said it cost about 30 percent more to feed the Redbro birds; the expense can run even higher for other slow-growth breeds, some of which can take as much as twice as long to reach full weight as conventional birds.
Differences in their musculature may cut into a producer’s profits as well. The Redbro chickens, for instance, have skinnier wings than their conventional cousins, and wings command a high price by weight.
“I don’t know that we’ll be selling any of these kinds of birds in pieces,” Dr. Stewart-Brown said.
Consumers would also have to accept some trade-offs: While the new chickens have a fuller flavor, their meat tends to be…