Everyone but the chicken, that is. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Everyone but the chicken, that is. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Rotisserie chickens have been around for a while. I used to bypass them and roast my own, until I noticed something: The rotisserie chickens were actually cheaper than buying and roasting my own.

Cat Vasko noticed the same thing and decided to figure out why. The answer makes a surprising amount of sense: Grocery stores make them out of unsold chicken that is about to pass its expiration date. It’s an elegant way to make a profit out of food that would otherwise be a net loss. And it’s not just chicken -- according to Vasko, the ever-expanding prepared-foods section of the supermarket uses up all sorts of unsold produce and meat. It is, as she says, a bit like hunter-gatherers using every inch of the animal.

This is the sort of thing that no one talks about when they talk about innovation --and yet, it’s a major way in which our economy has become more efficient over the last few decades. Reducing spoilage means grocery stores can sell us raw chickens at lower prices -- and that we can get fresh, delicious prepared food at even lower prices. It’s a win for the grocer and the consumer.

So the next time you hear someone talk about the innovation economy, don’t just think of Facebook or Google. The folks who spit-roast chickens, streamline factory production, or think up any of a million ways to save a little money here and there are just as important in improving our standard of living. Especially when it’s five minutes to 7 and you still haven’t made anything for dinner.

To contact the writer of this article: Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net.