Business History Review


Democratizing Luxury and the Contentious “Invention of the Technological Chicken” in Britain

Andrew Godley and Bridget Williams


In 1950, poultry comprised 1 percent of the total meat consumed in Britain. But over the next thirty years, chicken consumption grew at the rate of 10 percent per annum, while overall meat consumption remained stagnant. By 1980, poultry made up a quarter of the total share of the market, replacing beef, mutton, and bacon in the British diet. This transformation was made possible by dramatic changes in production, dependent on technological innovations across several unrelated sectors. While the widespread distribution of cheap chicken led to its mass adoption, the transformation in meateating habits was not without its controversies. The leading retailers, in particular J. Sainsbury, acted as critical intermediaries in this contested market, reconciling consumer uncertainty by attaching their own reputations to product quality, and then by intervening in the quality standards employed in their supply chains.

Andrew Godley is professor of management at Henley Business School at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom.

Bridget Williams is visiting research fellow at Henley Business School.

The authors would like to thank Paul Brassley, Bill Campbell, Roger Horowitz, and John Maunder, along with the staff at the Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading.