Sweet Sue Canned Whole Chicken

50-ounce can

Bryan Foods, Inc.

THE IDEA OF a chicken in every pot is all fine and well, but it really depends on the chicken. That's the primary lesson to be learned from a Sweet Sue Canned Whole Chicken, a fully cooked product that probably isn't giving Frank Perdue any sleepless nights.

As canned goods go, a Sweet Sue chicken seems relatively harmless--the ingredients listing is just chicken, water, and salt. A more curious tidbit, however, appears in the nutritional breakdown: Serving size: 2 ounces; servings per container: about 15. A puzzling entry, this--anyone who's ever planned a Thanksgiving dinner knows it takes a huge turkey to feed 15 people, and I'm fairly certain that even the drumstick from such a bird wouldn't fit inside a Sweet Sue chicken can. And who can subsist on two ounces of chicken? My cat eats more 9 Lives than that for breakfast.

My interest piqued, I spoke with Paul Matthews, marketing manager for Bryan Foods, which owns the Sweet Sue brand. "It may not make much sense," he said, echoing my thoughts exactly, "but the idea is that most of the consumers we've talked to who've used this product are taking apart the meat from the bone, just like they were making homemade chicken salad. When used that way, it can make up to 15 servings." Matthews didn't mention that a larger, more logical serving size would result in significantly higher levels of fat, cholesterol, and sodium per serving, but I suspect that had something to do with it too.

But let's face it, nobody's buying a canned chicken for nutritional reasons, so let's move on to the taste test. After following the directions to chill the product, I opened the can, dumped the contents into a large pan, and found myself staring at a quivering mound of congealed goop. Figuring there must be a fowl in there somewhere, I pawed my way through the gelatinous mass and, sure enough, discovered one very sorry-looking chicken about the size of a Cornish hen. I poked at a wing; it fell off. At this point it was hard to imagine anyone following the label's suggestion to "serve cold just as [the] chicken comes from the can," but I'd been planning on a hot meal anyway, so I popped the pan into the oven for the specified 15 minutes and then sat down to some of the blandest chicken it has ever been my duty to consume. I had to hand it to Sweet Sue on one count, however--two ounces turned out to be plenty.

Speaking of Sweet Sue, she's depicted on the label as a fresh-faced girl in a floppy straw hat. I was hoping this illustration might be based on an actual person who still served as the company figurehead--I imagined a grumpy old Sue, now about 60 years old and tired of posing for photo-ops with poultry farmers at the county fair, haunted by the lost youth that stares out from each can of chicken bearing her name. Unfortunately, Matthews said he was unaware of any real-life model for the character.

Whatever Sue's culinary skills, language does not appear to be her strong suit. The label includes a reminder to save the delicious broth, instructions for making a delicious gravy, pointers for preparing a delicious chicken soup, and a reference to the brand's delicious, homemade taste. If nothing else, Sue's going to be very easy to shop for this Christmas--I've already got her down for a thesaurus. (Bryan Foods, Inc., 1 Churchill Rd., Westpoint, MS 39773) (Paul Lukas) Inconspicuous Consumption is an occasional feature which examines a variety of products and services--some unusual, many exceedingly ordinary, but all worthy of close inspection.

 
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