Super Bowl creates one of the biggest surges in chicken wing sales

As the Super Bowl approaches, restaurants and sports bars bask in the fervor that creates one of the biggest surges in chicken wing sales for the entire year.
“Wing culture and sports culture go hand in hand, and the Super Bowl is one of our busiest times,” said Adam Ehrlich, a regional manager for Buffalo Wild Wings. “We’ll sell between 6,000 and 8,000 wings on the day of the Super Bowl. They’re a comfort food that goes well with the energy of playoffs leading up to the big game.”
U.S. restaurants sold more than 8 billion wings in 2008, according to the National Chicken Council. Football playoffs offer a boost to the market, triggering a 15- to 20-percent rise in prices during January. Wings have become so popular that their wholesale price now exceeds that of breast meat, which traditionally commanded a premium.
“Fifteen years ago chicken wings would run about 25 percent of the price of boneless chicken breast at wholesale, and now they’re selling at nearly 140 percent of the price of breast meat,” said Ron Plain, University of Missouri Extension agricultural economist. “That’s a tremendous change in consumer demand toward wings, which are a very small part of the bird.”
Plain doesn’t particularly care for chicken wings himself. “It’s mostly bone and skin and that doesn’t excite me, but restaurants are doing quite well with them,” he said. “I view chicken wings as a carrier for the sauce, which I think is the primary draw for the consumer rather than the meat itself.”
The USDA sees poultry as the only meat market with potential to grow in 2010. The agency’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates in December predict that poultry production will rise 1.03 percent this year, compared with a 2.79 percent decline in pork and a 1.52 percent lag in beef markets.
Prices for the appendages continue to increase as distributors see a possible shortage of wings after lowered production in 2009.
“Wings are a very hot item with high demand, but that doesn’t change the fact that a chicken only has two wings,” Plain said. “When we have growing demand for wings in a time when the total amount of chicken has declined, it pushes up its price relative to other parts of the bird.”
As customers continue to crave wings as part of sports culture, the chicken industry will likely continue to reap the rewards. But for how long?
“It’s tough to predict these sorts of shifts in consumer preference, but they have real impact on prices and what consumers eat,” Plain said. “Whether chicken wings will be as hot an item in restaurants five years from now is a question a lot of companies would like to know the answer to, but that’s something that we’ll just have to wait and see.”

See Ron Plain, MU Extension Economist video