Why is it that all supermarkets sell uncooked whole chickens at a price determined by their weight, but in their deli sections, most of them sell cooked whole chickens at a set price, despite the fact that their weights vary dramatically?
It makes no sense, and those consumers who aren’t sharp enough to insist on being given a relatively large chicken, or who get to the counter when only the tiny ones remain for sale, end up paying an astronomical per-kilo price for their cooked chicken.
The law, however, allows retailers to do this – cooked chickens are regarded by the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications as a “prepared meal”, such as you’d buy at a fast-food outlet, and, unlike a raw whole chicken, a prepared meal is not required to carry a weight declaration or be sold by weight.
But, as I’ve said before, that doesn’t make it fair. No one sells raw whole chickens at a set price, because that’s illegal. It should be no different with cooked chickens, regardless of legal loopholes.
Last year I challenged the supermarket groups to change their policy on this, and instruct their deli staff to start selling the cooked chickens per kilo.
At the time, Woolworths told me that the minimum weight of their cooked chickens was 750g.
Garth Luxton, who shops at Woolworths in Newlands, Cape Town, grew so tired of the varying size of the chickens he bought from the shop’s deli that he started weighing them.
In his sample of 34 chickens, the weights ranged from 626g to 1 047g, several of them under 750g – despite subtracting the weight of the bag.
“But the price stays the same,” Luxton said. “It’s currently R52.95 a chicken, so given the variance in weights, I paid between R50.42 a kilo and R84.58 a kilo for those chickens, yet they were all called ‘medium’!”
Just last week, Kerry Shewan of Durban e-mailed me a photo of a somewhat puny-looking cooked chicken she’d bought from Woolworths in Mount Edgecombe, and a copy of an e-mail she sent to the company to voice her objection.
“I have just purchased a cooked chicken for R52.95 and it weighs 686g!” she wrote.
“This is nothing short of daylight robbery.”
I asked Woolworths how the company continued to justify selling these chickens at a set price.
Woolworths’s food managing director, Zyda Rylands, said the company’s rotisserie chickens were produced to “strict product specifications… we specify and monitor the raw chicken weights, we specify and standardise the cooking process and we specify the maximum time allowed in the hot display”.
“All of these controls are in place to ensure the cooked chickens are within the specified acceptable weight tolerances.
“Products not conforming to the specifications are removed from our shelves and corrective action is taken to solve the problem and prevent a reoccurrence.”
But if a “non-conforming” chicken “slipped through”, the customer would be compensated appropriately, Rylands said.
But no matter how many specifications are in place, it is simply not possible to sell chickens of an identical weight, so it follows that they should not be sold for an identical price.