Chicken livers and offal on the rise as SA shoppers buy down

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Latest import statistics show that South Africans are increasingly buying down on chicken products to stretch their pennies, as soaring costs of living place severe pressure on household budgets.

According to data for the first quarter of 2024 compiled by food distributer Hume International, total import volumes of whole birds had nearly tripled compared to the same period in 2023, rising 187.47% year-on-year. Likewise, total import volumes of chicken wings and drumsticks – products typically used by local manufacturers to supply fast-food chains – had leapt 94.08% and 108.74% year-on-year, effectively doubling.

Meanwhile, demand for chicken livers had more than doubled by the end of March, rising 118.25% year-on-year. Simultaneously, demand for budget-friendly chicken carcasses had risen 85.16% year-on-year, and other offal cuts by 25.64%.

Table: Poultry import statistics

Q1 2023

Q1 2024

Difference (year-on-year)


Volume (kgs)

Volume (kgs)

Chicken carcasses




Chicken livers




Chicken offal (other)




Chicken leg quarters




Chicken wings




Chicken thighs




Chicken drumsticks




Chicken whole birds




Source: Hume International and Stratalyze (2024)

Hume International Operations and Logistics Director Roy Thomas explains that these shifts first serve as evidence of the very real impact of the bird flu outbreak in South Africa in the latter months of 2023.

“Imports have always bridged the gap between local supply and demand, particularly for products such as whole birds, wings, and drumsticks. But millions of chickens had to be culled by the local industry because of the bird flu epidemic, stimulating demand for imports and resulting in meteoric increases in volumes – proving the point that imports continue to serve a vital role in our food supply chains.

“But it’s also important to note that nearly all imports of whole birds consist of whole, spent layer hens – a product consumed almost exclusively by lower-income consumers. This indicates increasing pressure or distress among consumers in this market, further stimulating demand for whole birds.”

He adds that the jump in demand for low-cost chicken products such as offal and carcasses, serves as additional evidence of this point, signalling local consumers’ increasing price sensitivity and the growing threat of food insecurity.

“Chicken has always been one of the more affordable animal proteins and a staple of South African diets, especially among lower-income families. But with the sheer size of the shifts that importers are seeing in the local market, it’s very clear that families are turning to less expensive cuts and products such as offal to make it through the month.

“Chicken livers, for example, are extremely popular among feeding schemes for schools as a rich and relatively cheap source of protein that they are able to can and distribute to those in need. But, as the figures demonstrate, imports represent an increasingly essential complement to local supply, as we’re seeing a huge growth in demand due to a tough economic environment.”

By contrast, the first quarter of 2024 saw import volumes for chicken leg quarters and thighs, traditionally more expensive and desirable cuts of meat, decrease by 61.33% and 91.22% year-on-year respectively.

Thomas notes that these trends call into question the validity of local producers’ claims that recent tariff rebates on imported chicken products harmed their ability to compete.

“It’s clear that import demand is largely focused on cheaper cuts to cater for lower-income families, as well as products used in local manufacturing. Meanwhile, local producers’ focus tends to be on premium products such as leg quarters and thighs, which have continued to receive tariff protections.

“These products are typically geared to middle- and upper-income families who are less price sensitive. And, as the falling import volumes demonstrate, this isn’t necessarily importers’ target market – our focus tends to be on other parts of the market.

“So, given the current price pressures and sales trends, we strongly believe that the government should implement permanent rebates on import duties for chicken livers destined for school feeding schemes, as well as for poultry offal in general, which is a vital staple food for many low-income families. Additionally, similar to the rebates on ingredients used in canned corned beef, all imported components of ingredients for canned meat and poultry should receive permanent rebates.

“This will prevent any unnecessary shortages or price leaps as a result of tight local supply, and relieve the financial burden on vulnerable households, helping them keep food on the table,” he concludes.