Evolving U.S. demographics are shifting consumer preferences from white meat chicken to dark meat, according to new research by CoBank. 

Since 2000, chicken breast’s share of the value of the bird has dropped from 66 percent to just 45 percent, while the value of chicken legs has increased dark meat’s share from 12 percent to near 30 percent. 

The report says the change presents the chicken industry with an opportunity to diversify its profit centers. 

Advances in mechanical deboning technology have allowed U.S. chicken producers to capture the emerging demand for dark meat while addressing the ever-present labor shortage, according to CoBank. 

Age and ethnicity are behind the change. Millennials are projected to surpass Baby Boomers in 2019 as the largest living adult generation in the U.S. 

As Baby Boomers age, their consumption of meat, including white chicken meat, is declining. 

Latino and Asian populations are growing in the U.S. and dark meat chicken, rather than white meat, is typically used in the cuisines of their cultures.