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Why the appetite for chicken sandwiches is red hot and shows no signs of slowing down –



The humble chicken sandwich has traditionally played second fiddle on the fast-food menu.

It’s better than a fish sandwich but not quite the Whopper or a Big Mac. But while the chicken sandwich may not yet be in the same class as a beef burger, poultry need not be humble anymore.

Different versions of the sandwich — whether breaded, saucy or spicy — have proliferated across the vast restaurant landscape in North America. Even seafood chain Red Lobster now sells a Nashville hot chicken sandwich.

The sandwiches have even proven to be pandemic resistant. While overall restaurant visits were down significantly over the last year and a half, chicken sandwich purchases were up 14 per cent, according to NPD Group.

“Chicken sandwiches are just booming,” said Vince Sgabellone, food service industry analyst for NPD Group, which tracks industry data and trends.

“They’re back to where they were two years ago, despite the lack of traffic of people going into restaurants.”

A fowl war, indeed

It’s no wonder, then, that at least 20 restaurant chains across North America have added some kind of new chicken sandwich to their menu over a two-year period.

It’s been dubbed the chicken sandwich wars by some, with the first salvos launched in the United States in 2019, when Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen began offering its fried chicken sandwich.

A customer in Texas holds up a Popeyes chicken sandwich at the height of their hype, in August 2019. (Eric Gay/The Associated Press)

That move was considered a direct challenge to competitor Chick-fil-A, which began selling its chicken sandwich in 1967.

Observers had predicted that the market had already reached peak chicken in 2016, but its popularity has since skyrocketed.

While those observers may be surprised by where things have gone since then, two sisters with a chicken restaurant in Calgary saw potential back in 2017.

Francine and Nicole Gomes, who own the Cluck N Cleaver restaurant, went on a chicken-eating tour of the U.S. South in 2017 for a kind of tasty fact-finding mission.

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“We ate so much fried chicken on that trip,” Francine said in an interview with CBC Radio’s The Cost of Living, as she described multiple stops at famous chicken joints, as well as roadside chicken shacks.

One thing the restaurateurs concluded is they wanted to add a chicken sandwich to their menu, which they did just a few weeks after their return. They now offer two chicken sandwiches.

The Gomes sisters told The Cost of Living that their chicken sandwich sales have increased year over year by 40 per cent, even as other competing restaurants opened.

“It’s going bonkers,” said Nicole Gomes, also well-known as a champion from the Top Chef Canada Allstars television show.

Francine Gomes, left, and her sister, Nicole, own the Cluck N Cleaver restaurant in Calgary. They say there’s room for everyone in the growing chicken sandwich craze. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

“There’s room for everybody,” she said, adding that she welcomes the growth.

Her comments underscore that the chicken sandwich phenomenon isn’t driven exclusively by fast-food chains, with many independent restaurants joining the trend.

“Even before the pandemic, there was an increase in restaurants opening that focused on one single item, like ramen or pizza or burgers or fried chicken sandwiches,” said Calgary-based food journalist Julie Van Rosendaal, who appears on CBC Radio.

“And so even beyond fast food, there have been a lot of small restaurants opening up that focus just on fried chicken or even just fried chicken sandwiches. And that has helped drive the trend as well.”

A hot plate of punishment pays off

The chicken sandwich isn’t a new item, with newspaper ads for the meal found as far back as the 1930s. But the spicy chicken sandwich gaining popularity has a more contemporary origin.

Lately, variations of “Nashville hot chicken” have drawn attention, with one of the dish’s birthplaces, Prince’s Hot Chicken, serving as a mecca for chicken fans such as Calgary’s Gomes sisters. They included the restaurant on their trip four years ago.

The story behind its signature dish is the stuff of legend — and is actually rooted in revenge.

According to family lore, James Thornton Prince III was a handsome man who never struggled to find a date on a Saturday night, but he wasn’t too popular with one particular woman left behind while he enjoyed an evening out on the town.

After returning home, Prince was ready for a meal. His girlfriend provided one in the form of an extra-spicy serving of chicken, which she thought would teach him a lesson.

“She had to get some attention,” said André Prince Jeffries, Thornton’s grand-niece and now the matriarch of Prince’s Hot Chicken. “She had to let him know … she was hurt.”

André Prince Jeffries, centre, the owner of Prince’s Hot Chicken in Nashville, is flanked by Calgary’s Gomes sisters, who included the restaurant on a trip four years ago. (Submitted by Francine Gomes)

The meal did not have the desired effect and ultimately led to his famous hot chicken.

“After he devoured it … I’m sure he asked for more,” Jeffries said in an interview with The Cost of Living. He apparently enjoyed the chicken so much, he eventually tried to recreate it and then sell it.

“I think he would be rather surprised if he knew his punishment is still being recognized [today].”

More money in the chicken coop

Few other chicken sandwiches on the market these days can promise the same benefits as Prince’s legendary offerings, but regardless of why people flock to the bird, they are doing so more often than before.

Spending by Americans on chicken sandwiches has quadrupled in just a two-year span, and a growing appetite for the sandwiches in Canada is something chicken farmers are trying to better understand as well.

The former location of Prince’s Hot Chicken in Nashville, serving as a mecca for chicken fans. The popular restaurant has since moved to a new spot, but the chicken is just as spicy. (Submitted by Francine Gomes)

“Every week it seems like you have a bit more of an update on what the next sandwich is going to be,” said Jason Born, chair of the Alberta Chicken Producers.

“It’s something that we’re very happy to see, of course.”

Born said it’s difficult to specifically quantify the value of the chicken sandwich boom to the Canadian sector, but it is an expanding slice of the restaurant business.

“If a significant portion of your business — in our case 40 per cent — is through these restaurant channels, it’ll have an impact on volume and production,” he said.

Consumers have seen grocery store prices for chicken jump in recent months, in part due to increased demand. However, the rising cost of chicken feed and supply-chain issues are also causing prices to go up. (Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images)

Chicken processors now worth billions of dollars

Industry officials say demand for chicken and chicken production are both rebounding from the impact of the pandemic, which saw many restaurants close under public health restrictions.

Consumers have seen grocery store prices for chicken jump in recent months, in part due to increased demand. However, the rising cost of chicken feed and supply-chain issues are also causing prices to go up.

The average retail price for a kilo of chicken was more than $8 in Canada in July, up 15 per cent in only six months, according to Statistics Canada.

It’s not just chicken that’s selling for a premium these days — it’s also chicken processing companies.

Amid strengthening chicken sales and prices in the U.S., poultry processor Sanderson Farms is selling for $4.5 billion US to a joint venture that includes Cargill and Continental Grain.

The price represented a whopping 30 per cent premium on Sanderson’s stock price in mid-June, a clear indication both companies see a big future in chicken.

Social media, takeout popularity behind chicken’s flight

But sales figures and stock markets aside, why are chicken sandwiches climbing up the pecking order of foodies’ favourites?

Food columnist Van Rosendaal said she believes a few key things have helped chicken sandwiches take flight even after others thought they’d hit their peak years ago.

We decided it was the peak in 2016, and we were wrong.– Julie Van Rosendaal, food columnist for CBC Radio

For one, she said takeout food has performed relatively well during the pandemic, and chicken sandwiches travel well while also being “indulgent.”

While marketing is a big part of the chicken sandwich wars, Van Rosendaal pointed out that the food’s popularity on Instagram has also helped raise the sandwich’s profile.

“When it’s really visually appealing, it does very well on social media,” she said. “So chicken sandwiches have been driven by social media.”

As for how long the trend can last, Van Rosendaal said she finds it “fascinating” that not only does the chicken sandwich trend have staying power, but it doesn’t even seem to be slowing down.

“We decided it was the peak in 2016, and we were wrong.”

Written and produced by Tony Seskus.
Click the play icon above this story to hear this segment, or 
download the Cost of Living podcast.

The Cost of Living airs every week on CBC Radio One, Sundays at 12:00 p.m. ET (12:30 NT).

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Big gap between Pfizer, Moderna vaccines seen for preventing COVID hospitalizations – Yahoo News Canada



Los Angeles , CA - May 14: Alma Sevilla preparers Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine vial at a mobile vaccine clinic held at Roosevelt Park on Friday, May 14, 2021 in Los Angeles , CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is readied at a mobile vaccine clinic in Los Angeles. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Amid persistent concerns that the protection offered by COVID-19 vaccines may be waning, a report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that America’s workhorse shot is significantly less effective at preventing severe cases of disease over the long term than many experts had realized.

Data collected from 18 states between March and August suggest the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reduces the risk of being hospitalized with COVID-19 by 91% in the first four months after receiving the second dose. Beyond 120 days, however, that vaccine efficacy drops to 77%.

Meanwhile, Moderna’s vaccine was 93% effective at reducing the short-term risk of COVID-19 hospitalization and remained 92% effective after 120 days.

Overall, 54% of fully vaccinated Americans have been immunized with the Pfizer shot.

The surprising findings came as a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended against offering booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine to all Americans ages 16 and older. In a striking rebuke, 16 of 18 experts told the agency it had not mustered enough data to make a third shot the norm.

In lengthy briefings to the panel, representatives from Pfizer pointed to clinical trial results involving 306 mostly healthy participants to argue that a booster “restores” the 95% vaccine effectiveness rate seen earlier in the pandemic.

Company officials also touted evidence from Israel, which rolled out boosters after seeing a rise in hospitalizations among people who were fully vaccinated. Those hospitalizations dropped dramatically after third doses were given, Israeli scientists have said.

But panel members made clear that despite Pfizer’s aggressive stance, it had not gathered enough evidence that a third shot was safe for young people and for those at lesser risk of becoming severely ill with COVID-19.

“We need age-specific data” on the safety and protective benefits of a further booster, said Dr. Ofer Levy, a panel member who directs the Precision Vaccines program at Boston Children’s Hospital.

FDA clearance for booster shots for everyone 16 and older would be seen as something “close to a mandate,” said Dr. Eric Rubin, a panel member and infectious-disease expert at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Rubin worried that such a move could redefine what it takes to be considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“None of us are there yet,” he said.

But others apparently are. Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s top advisor on vaccines, has come out strongly in favor of booster shots, saying before Friday’s vote that a failure to endorse the shots “would be a mistake.”

And in mid-August, Biden himself said his administration would begin making booster shots available the week of Sept. 20 to those vaccinated for at least eight months.

Biden cautioned at the time that his plan was contingent on FDA approval. But his announcement stoked concerns of political meddling in a matter that required the unhindered evaluation of scientists.

“This should demonstrate to the public that the members of this committee are independent of the FDA,” Dr. Archana Chatterjee, dean of the Chicago Medical School, said after the vote. “In fact, we do bring our voices to the table when we are asked to serve on this committee.”

The panel unanimously agreed that a third shot of the vaccine now sold under the brand name Comirnaty should be offered to select groups: individuals 65 and older, people at risk of developing severe disease, and those, including healthcare workers, whose occupations put them at high risk of infection.

Dr. Peter Marks, who leads the FDA’s evaluation of drugs and vaccines, told panel members that the agency could give its blessing to booster shots with an emergency use authorization — a regulatory step that falls short of the full approval Pfizer had sought.

The company issued no statement Friday in response to the panel’s vote.

Researchers in the United States have been warning for months that the immunity afforded by COVID-19 vaccines might be waning. The CDC reported that in late July, close to three-quarters of the 469 people swept up in a Massachusetts outbreak were fully vaccinated. And the agency has launched several studies aimed at detecting changes in vaccine effectiveness in healthcare workers and others who were vaccinated early.

But virtually all of those infections appeared to be mild. And health officials eager to induce vaccine skeptics to step up for their shot — including Fauci and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — have repeatedly praised the vaccines for keeping most fully vaccinated people out of hospitals.

The new report on waning vaccine efficacy challenges that expectation.

Vials of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 sit on a tray at a vaccination clinic.Vials of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 sit on a tray at a vaccination clinic.

Vials of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 sit on a tray at a mass vaccination clinic in Ontario, Calif. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Researchers from around the country found striking differences between two mRNA vaccines long thought to be interchangeable.

When the Moderna vaccine received emergency use authorization in December, the company reported that 30 people in its clinical trial developed severe cases of COVID-19, including nine who required hospitalization. All 30 patients were in the placebo group, resulting in a vaccine efficacy against severe disease of 100%.

Ten people in Pfizer’s initial clinical trial developed severe cases of COVID-19. Nine of them were in the placebo group, including seven who were hospitalized, resulting in a vaccine efficacy against severe disease of 88.9%.

Once the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were rolled out to the public, their records of preventing COVID-19 hospitalizations in the first four months were neck and neck — 93% and 91% effective, respectively. But the degree of protection diverged after that.

When they focused specifically on the period 120 days beyond the second dose, the study authors found that the Moderna vaccine remained 92% effective at preventing COVID-19 hospitalizations. But the equivalent figure for the Pfizer vaccine was 77%.

The results were published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are based on mRNA technology, which delivers temporary instructions to the body’s muscle cells that help it learn to recognize the spike protein, a key part of the coronavirus’ structure. But “they’re actually not necessarily interchangeable,” said Dr. Timothy Brewer, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at UCLA.

Each vaccine is formulated and administered differently, Brewer said, and those differences could affect the strength and duration of the two vaccines’ protection.

Moderna’s shot contains 100 micrograms of vaccine, more than three times the 30 micrograms in the Pfizer shot. And Pfizer’s two doses are given three weeks apart, while Moderna’s two-shot regimen is administered with a four-week gap.

Brewer also pointed to evidence that the Moderna vaccine seemed to elicit higher levels of a key antibody than the Pfizer vaccine.

“We know from other studies the neutralizing antibody levels will decay over time, so starting at a higher level will mean that you have farther to go before you decay to a point where efficacy drops off,” he said.

Dr. Robert Murphy, who directs Northwestern University’s Institute for Global Health, said the Pfizer vaccine’s reduced protection against severe disease may bolster the case for boosters for all who got the vaccine, not just the specific groups identified by the FDA advisory panel.

“Based on the data I have seen, persons who received the Pfizer vaccine would benefit from a booster dose at this time,” he said. “I don’t see why we have to wait until the younger people get sick and become hospitalized.”

But Dr. Arnold Monto, who chairs the FDA advisory panel, applauded the agency’s willingness to withhold a full-throated call for boosters until a stronger case can be made. And he suggested that as more evidence accumulates, boosters for all might still get the nod.

“That’s the beauty of the emergency use authorization,” said Monto, an epidemiologist at University of Michigan. “It can be changed based on changing data.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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CN Rail to slash capital spending, resume stock buybacks as shareholder battle looms – The Globe and Mail



CN’s announcement came less than a day after its second-largest investor, TCI Fund Management, gave the company 21 days to call a shareholder meeting at which TCI plans to oust CN’s chairman, chief executive officer and two directors.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Canadian National Railway Co. has moved to fend off a battle for control of the company’s boardroom, rolling out a list of investor-friendly plans Friday that includes share buybacks, layoffs and reduced spending.

CN unveiled the changes, including the sale of non-rail businesses and other steps intended to boost profit and improve productivity, as it defended its actions in the failed takeover of U.S. railway Kansas City Southern.

CN’s announcement came less than a day after its second-largest investor, TCI Fund Management, gave the company 21 days to call a shareholder meeting at which TCI plans to oust CN’s chairman, chief executive officer and two directors.

Mathieu Gaudreault, a CN spokesman, said the company received TCI’s meeting requisition notice and will respond later.

British billionaire Chris Hohn, who owns TCI, said CN is poorly run by people with little or no rail experience. Mr. Hohn said the failed attempt to buy Kansas City Southern underlined CN’s “flawed decision making” and “a basic misunderstanding of the railroad industry and regulatory environment.”

Ben Walker, a partner in TCI, dismissed CN’s Friday announcement as “reactive” and said it does not change the plans to wage a boardroom fight. The dissatisfaction with CN’s leadership precedes the failed KCS bid, he said, pointing to CN’s underperformance in recent years compared with its rivals.

“A lot of the things they’re doing should have been done already as part of a continuous improvement plan and efficiency optimization,” Mr. Walker said by phone. “We’re hopeful that shareholders will vote for our slate of independent, high-quality nominees.”

KCS agreed to a cheaper bid from rival Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. and is awaiting regulatory approval.

On a conference call with analysts Friday, CN executives defended their handling of the KCS bid and said the company’s management and board were the best people to lead the company.

“We have the right leadership team and management team to execute our strategic plan, both in the short term and the long term,” said Jean-Jacques Ruest, CN’s chief executive officer. “We have a vision for the industry which is forward-looking, not backward-looking.”

Mr. Ruest said the non-rail businesses that could be sold or shut down include its Great Lakes commodity ships, freight forwarding business and Winnipeg trucking company TransX Group, which CN bought in 2019.

“There is no sacred cow at CN,” Mr. Ruest said on the call. “Do they fit in the long-term strategy? Do they also contribute to feeding the beast or bringing business to the railroad?”

CN said it will eliminate 650 management jobs and 400 unionized positions in train operations.

Walter Spracklin, a Royal Bank of Canada stock analyst, said CN’s “strategic refocus” was inevitable.

“It is clear to us that CN’s operating efficiency has deteriorated over the past several years and the company has gone from industry leader to industry laggard,” Mr. Spracklin said. “That said, as an early pioneer of [precision scheduled railroading], we believe the company has the potential to achieve … efficiency levels that are among the best in the industry.”

TCI’s nominees to CN’s board include former CN and Union Pacific Railroad executive Jim Vena as CEO.

The US$40-billion hedge fund, launched in 2003 by Mr. Hohn, owns more than 5 per cent of CN’s shares, worth about $4-billion. TCI is also the largest owner of CP shares, at 8 per cent, and owns almost 3 per cent of Union Pacific.

In 2008, TCI led a boardroom fight at U.S. railway CSX Corp., replacing four of 12 directors.

Among the steps CN announced Friday:

  • Resuming share repurchases to reach $1.1-billion by the end of January, 2022;
  • Increasing shareholder returns, including share buybacks of $5-billion for 2022;
  • Replacing two directors in 2022, including chairman Robert Pace, whose planned retirement was previously announced;
  • Improving the operating ratio, which compares sales with costs, to 57 per cent; and
  • Increasing train length and speed.

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US FDA panel okays COVID-19 booster jabs for people over 65 – Al Jazeera English



Recommendation comes after science advisory panel rejects Pfizer proposal to provide booster jabs to most people.

A United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel has given approval to a booster jab of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for people over the age of 65 and others at high risk of the disease.

But the influential FDA panel of scientists on Friday rejected widespread delivery of boosters to most Americans, delivering a surprise blow to the Biden administration’s plan to combat the highly contagious Delta variant by rolling out third jabs of the vaccine next week.

Members of the FDA’s panel of outside experts voted unanimously to support boosters for older Americans and at-risk people after rejecting Pfizer’s proposal to provide boosters of the vaccine to the general public.

The FDA’s move to clear the way for booster jabs only for older and at-risk people came as President Joe Biden planned to host a COVID-19 summit on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York next week.

The US has been pushing partner nations to increase the availability of vaccines worldwide. The World Health Organization has urged the US to hold off providing boosters to its citizens until more of the worldwide population has received an initial inoculation.

“We will be asking participants to commit to a higher level of ambition” on a “common vision for defeating COVID-19 together”, White press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

During several hours of discussion, the FDA panel of scientific advisers voiced frustration that Pfizer had provided little data on the safety of extra doses. And they complained information provided by Israeli researchers about their booster campaign was not useful for predicting the US experience.

Pfizer Inc and its German partner BioNTech, as well as rival vaccine maker Moderna Inc, have presented analyses of clinical trials showing that the effectiveness of the vaccines wanes over time.

As a result, people who were vaccinated earlier on in the pandemic are now more vulnerable to infections, particularly in the face of the fast-spreading Delta variant of coronavirus.

Booster doses help restore the waning levels of antibodies produced by the original inoculation, the drugmakers have said.

Top FDA members have been split on the necessity of the boosters, with interim head Janet Woodcock backing them but some of the agency’s top scientists arguing they are not needed yet.

Members of the advisory panel said the Pfizer and the FDA request for approval for people as young as 16 years old is too broad. Most of them said they would support boosters for older Americans, but did not think they were needed yet for younger adults.

Many vaccine experts said the data so far only suggested a need for boosters in older adults and people with compromised immune systems. The critics include two FDA scientists who resigned as the Biden administration announced its booster shot plans.

A separate panel advising the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will meet next week to recommend which groups should get them.

The White House said it was ready to roll out boosters next week if health officials approve the plan. That programme now is likely to be narrowed in light of the advisory panel’s views and the FDA’s partial approval of the use of boosters.

A report published in The Lancet medical journal on September 13 concluded that even with the threat of the more contagious Delta variant, “booster doses for the general population are not appropriate at this stage in the pandemic.”

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