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Fowl wings into fish den

Past platter: fish, fish and more fish.

Present preference: chicken, chicken and more chicken.

Calcutta’s gastronomic graph is showing a tectonic shift — with murgi-bhaat matching machh-bhaat, munch for munch.

Figures released by the poultry trade on Friday revealed Calcutta and its suburbs consuming 1.5 million birds a week, up from 0.7 million recorded a little over five years ago.

“The day is not far off when we in Calcutta will cease to be known only as fish-eaters,” said animal resources development minister Anisur Rahman. “Chicken has already replaced fish in several households. In another 10 years, it will be the dominant factor,” he added.

Powering the demand for chicken is a combination of factors: the reluctance of the new generation to experiment with fish and the hunt for an affordable alternative to fish that figures high on the price list and mutton that invariably tops the doctor’s not-to-eat list.

“The present figures do not tell you the real story about how young children from fish-eating families are taking to chicken in a big way,” says P.K. Roy, managing director of Arambagh Hatcheries Limited.

With 140 outlets and an investment of over Rs 100 crore, Arambagh boasts a big bite of the chicken market.

And the projections explain why private players have decided not to chicken out. Rahman’s department is convinced that chicken consumption in Calcutta will touch 3.5 million a week in five years’ time.

“We are here because of the high growth factor. No other market offers 15 per cent growth potential,” said Lakshmi Kumar, business development officer of Coimbatore-based Suguna Poultry Farm, currently in talks with the animal resources department for hatchery land.

Tracking the trend, hatcheries and suppliers of eggs and chicken from Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra are targeting the Calcutta market.

According to a poultry trade survey, the per capita chicken consumption in Calcutta is about 1.5 kg, as against the all-India average of 1 kg.

Compared to Calcutta, other metros like Mumbai records 1.6 kg, Chennai 1.4 kg and Delhi 1.2 kg.

“The spiralling prices of various varieties of fish has led to an overwhelming growth in demand for chicken,” said Tapas Bandopadhyay, general secretary of West Bengal Poultry Welfare Association.

As far as cost-to-consumer goes, a dressed chicken from an Arambagh outlet moves on a price band of Rs 50-Rs 55 a kg, while a live bird sold by vendors in city markets ranges between Rs 45 and Rs 50 a kg. Varieties of fish like topshe, pabda, bhekti and parshe cost between Rs 140 and Rs 180 a kg.

“Chicken is not eating into the fish market because of the price factor only; the white meat is also perceived to be more healthy,” said Suman Madan, deputy general manager of Hyderabad-based Venkateswar Hatcheries.

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