Prices for the bony poultry parts are on the rise.
Not long ago, any sports bar worth its salt had a cheap Buffalo wing night, advertising specials in cents not dollars. But if you’ve noticed these deals are fewer and farther between, don’t blame inflation, blame demand. Chicken wings have become so popular the once unwanted extras are now the most expensive part of the whole bird.
Even back in 2015, the writing was already on the coop, so to speak. America was facing a chicken wing shortage that was driving up prices, with a wholesale pound of wings going for about $1.69 in January of that year. Nature is at the heart of the problem: Chickens only have so many wings – four pieces per bird (two “drumettes” and two “wingettes” or “flats” for those who’ve spent countless hours in the bar debating what these parts are officially called). As a result, even though farmers were increasing overall chicken yields by breeding bigger birds, chicken wing supplies remained stagnant.
But demand has continued to grow: Not just bars and restaurants but entire chains focusing on serving chicken wings are increasingly in the mix. In a recent earnings call, Buffalo Wild Wings, which saw profits tumble by over 60 percent in the most recent quarter, said high wing costs were part of the problem. “Traditional wings were $2.05 per pound in the second quarter, or 6 percent higher than last year,” CFO Alexander H. Ware was quoted as saying. “This is a historic high for wings at this time of year.” And that’s one of the big guys. Meanwhile, the owner of a Maryland seafood restaurant told The Washington Post he was paying $2.90 per pound this month, 60 percent more than he was paying just months ago.
In Buffalo Wild Wings case, the chain is trying to shift its wing special to their “boneless” wings, which are just chunks of breast meat, because, somewhat unbelievably, breasts are now cheaper than wings. “Wings are the most expensive part of the chicken,” Erik Oosterwijk, president and founder of Fells Point Wholesale Meats, told the Post. “The highest they’ve ever been.” In February 2011, his company sold wings for $1.37 per pound; currently, they’re at $2.85 per pound. Wing sizes vary, but in general a pound is somewhere in the neighborhood of ten wing parts. That’s a wholesale cost of over 25 cents per wing before any additional ingredients or labor. So don't be surprised when bars replace wing nights with free bowls of peanuts. Or maybe popcorn chicken.