Consumers are turning away from standard chickens in favour of birds raised under higher welfare standards, according to figures released today.

Sales of the RSPCA's Freedom Food chicken is up £55 million from £16.4 million to £71.6 million since March last year, compared to a drop of more than £26 million for standard chicken, figures from Kantar Worldpanel show.

The RSPCA said the research was proof that animal welfare remained important to even the most budget-conscious shoppers.

The amount of Freedom Food chicken sold in supermarkets increased by more than 15 million kilos, compared to a decrease of 11 million for standard chicken, according to the research.

The figures come two years after high-profile campaigns for improved chicken welfare by celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Freedom Food chief executive Leigh Grant said: "We expected to see an increase in sales of Freedom Food chicken after Jamie and Hugh highlighted the benefits of buying higher welfare back in 2008, but these latest results far exceed anything we could have predicted.

"They are absolute proof that chicken welfare is of paramount importance to more people than ever before. The fact shoppers have stood firm by animal welfare through some of the most difficult economic times only reinforces that it is an issue that is here to stay."

Freedom Food-labelled products come from farms that are assessed to RSPCA welfare standards.