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Why your Super Bowl chicken wings cost more this year

Rest assured, there will be chicken wings available this Sunday. They may just cost more.
Matthew Mead
/
AP
Rest assured, there will be chicken wings available this Sunday. They may just cost more.

Updated February 13, 2022 at 6:17 PM ET

Don't be surprised if you find yourself paying a premium on chicken wings this Super Bowl season. The good news? There will be wings.

"There will be no wing shortage," said National Chicken Council spokesman Tom Super in a recent news release. "Like almost anything else you buy right now, wings might be a little more expensive, but they'll be stocked. I just wouldn't wait until kickoff to be in line or order online."

The higher cost is owed to Americans' heightened appetite for chicken wings during the pandemic, according to Super. That demand is putting pressure on a supply chain already dogged by labor shortages, shipping delays and bad weather — as is the story with so many other sectors right now.

Americans are expected to consume about 1.42 billion chicken wings on game day — matching last year's record, according to the Chicken Council. But this year, despite the supply pressures, the industry has been long preparing to make sure the same amount of wings get to consumers this Super Bowl. They'll just cost more.

Wholesale wing prices are down 19% compared to last May's high, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data cited by the NCC, yet businesses are charging about 30 cents per pound more than last year.

"The cost of our wings has gone up 100%," Zak Omar, CEO of the chain restaurant Atomic Wings, told Restaurant Business. "In March, when COVID just started, we were at $60 for a case of wings. Today, we're at $120 for a case of wings."

If businesses run out of fresh wings, they likely have frozen wings in stock. Poultry producers last year added to their frozen wings inventory by 70% from the previous year, the NCC reported.

Those aren't looking any cheaper, though. According to the USDA, frozen "party wings" retail prices went from $2.31 per pound last year to $3.55 this week (and $3.13 last week).

Instead of hitting customers with higher prices, food writer Mike Pomeranz told NPR, some establishments are resorting to downsizing their wing deals. Domino's, for example, announced last month that it would cut the number of chicken wings in its $7.99 carryout deal from 10 wings to eight, with the chain's CEO citing "unprecedented increases" in ingredient costs.

Chicken wings can also be a volatile market, says Pomeranz.

"The amount of chicken wings available does fluctuate annually," he said, adding that even if farms have been raising more birds for a larger wing supply, some producers might lack enough employees to process the meat. "And then you also have the larger supply chain issues of getting these wings from producers to restaurants," he said.

And in recent years, more and more restaurants — recognizing COVID's dining limitations combined with Americans' comfort food cravings — are trying to get in on the wing action, said Pomeranz. While many wing establishments are already designed for takeout and delivery, Pomeranz said there's a newcomer boom of delivery-only businesses, like ghost kitchens and virtual brands.

"The result just simply becomes that as more places try and push chicken wings, it just continues to drive up prices across the board," he said.

Amid last year's fears of a Super Bowl wing shortage, Pomeranz reminded NPR about nature's immutable fact.

"I always say the root cause of the issue is that chickens only have two wings, and that is not changing anytime soon," he said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.