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Rovell: Chicken Wing Reaches Record Prices Before Super Bowl 55 Thanks to Perfect Storm

Rovell: Chicken Wing Reaches Record Prices Before Super Bowl 55 Thanks to Perfect Storm article feature image

Jeff Fusco/Getty Images. Pictured: Chicken wings

Every year, during early February and mid March, the chicken wing gets expensive. That’s because it’s always during the Super Bowl and March Madness when supply gets strained.

This year we’ve reached the perfect storm. Prices have soared to record highs, as wings are now going for $2.71 a pound.

So, what happened?

First, it comes down to the actual chicken production, which is down two percent versus last year. Not only that, it costs more to attempt to operate in the same way as compared to the pre-COVID era. Costs going in are greater for the farmer.

The lower supply is met with increased demand.

While the dine-in restaurant business is down double digits, servings of wings are actually up seven percent, according to the National Chicken Council. That’s because wings are the perfect food of the times — something to easily order for delivery or takeout.

Then came even more competition through the rise of virtual wings restaurants. Brinker International started It’s Just Wings out of its Chili’s and Maggiano’s restaurants in June and was quickly averaging $12 million a month in sales from 1,000 restaurants. Applebee’s mimicked their competitor by starting a similar concept.

Frozen wings at supermarkets haven’t gotten much love in the past, but this year, frozen wing sales are up 37 percent, according to the NCC, with the growth of home air fryers undoubtedly helping boost sales.

Unlike airlines and other businesses which often lock in their future costs of commodities in contracts, none of the big players in the wing business have been able to do so.

Farms know that they are going to sell out their entire inventory anyway, so they have no motivation to guarantee future costs. That means that restaurants are stuck with the exorbitant bill this year. Last year, a 40-pound bag of wings cost $75 around this time of year. This year, it’s $125.

Freezing wings isn’t necessarily an option for many restaurants as bones can easily crack and doing so often changes the color of the meat to an unappetizing gray.

Offering other parts of the chicken, which are cheaper, also hasn’t taken on any sort of mass adoption. Restaurants that have tried serving the whole wing have failed, as seeing the entire wing is not something people want to get used to. Cutting wings out breast meat has grown the pie, but people who want bones want bones.

Late last year, Grubhub released its annual “Year In Food,” compiled from the orders of 30 million diners. They named wings the third-fastest growing order with a 287 percent increase, which is astounding given that the chicken wing didn’t exactly come out of nowhere.

Despite the price increases, which are sometimes passed onto the consumer at the restaurant level, the National Chicken Council projects Americans will eat 1.42 billion wings on Sunday, up two percent from last year.

The only solution to make things cheaper? An eight-wing bird.

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