Copyright © 2015 Vancouver Sun
On Super Bowl Sunday, expect two things when your order of chicken wings arrives: They’ll be fat, and they’ll be pricey.
First the fat part. American farmers are giving their chickens extra feed, taking advantage of plunging corn and soybean costs to help lift poultry production – as measured by weight – to a record.
But each chicken, of course, still only has two wings, regardless of its size. And the number of actual chickens slaughtered last year fell, causing a drop of about 50 million wings, government data show. That smaller supply is what’s triggering the pricey part of the equation. The cost of wholesale wings sold by processors in Georgia, which sets the benchmark for the nation, has surged 8.2 per cent this month to $1.715 US a pound, the biggest jump to start a year since 2012.
Americans will consume 1.25 billion wings when game day arrives Feb. 1. That estimate, provided by the National Chicken Council, is unchanged from last year’s Super Bowl.
“Wings are just all over menus,” Darren Tristano, executive vice-president at Chicagobased research firm Technomic Inc., said in a recent interview. Demand for wings remains “very high with consumers because they’re customizable,” he said. “There’s a health halo around it, because it’s chicken. There are a lot of flavour profiles, and it’s a fun finger food.”
Buffalo Wild Wings Inc., a Minneapolis-based restaurant chain with more than 1,000 stores, raised menu prices by an average of three per cent in November, CEO Jim Schmidt said this month. The company normally would have raised prices in February, but made the increases earlier partly because of higher wing costs, he said.
Chicken output will rise 2.7 per cent from 2014’s record to an all-time high of 39.21 billion pounds this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. Still, fewer birds slaughtered means that wholesale wing prices are up more than 30 per cent from a year earlier.
Americans paid 9.2 per cent more for meat last year, the biggest jump of any food group, USDA data show. The gains were led by increases for beef and veal amid shrinking cattle herds, and that advance helped support prices for other proteins as consumers sought cheaper alternatives to record costs for steaks.
“It’s a good thing the Super Bowl pastime is chicken wings and not hamburgers,” said Andy Wiederhorn, CEO of Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Buffalo’s Cafe, where a pound of wings costs about five to 10 per cent more than this time last year at its 50 locations in the U.S. and Canada. “The prices have been generally reasonable, unlike beef prices, which have skyrocketed to record highs.”
The Super Bowl, which will pit the Seattle Seahawks against the New England Patriots this year, marks the No. 1 wing-eating day in the U.S. Demand peaks in the first quarter of the year, with consumption also high south of the border for the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament games. An increase in restaurants serving wings is also supporting prices. The number of U.S. chicken-wing franchises grew seven per cent to more than 2,000 restaurants in the five years through 2013, according to Arlington, Va.-based franchise researcher Frandata. Demand for the meat is also rising as pizza chains including Pizza Hut and Little Caesar’s serve wings, Technomic’s Tristano said.