More wings from every chicken?

Here’s an answer for the chicken wings shortage – two more ‘wing’ parts per bird.

New scapula cut after cooking
New scapula cut after cooking

At a time when wings are the most valuable part of a chicken, a new process available to processors produces two more wing parts from every bird.

Demand for wings almost always exceeds supply, and wings are now the most valuable part of a chicken (~$1.53/lb.). Even boneless, skinless breast meat is priced lower than wings at $1.25/lb. Moreover, simply growing more birds as a means of producing more wings is not an answer because of the oversupply of dark meat nationwide. This is compounded by the fact that Russia discontinued importing dark meat from the U.S. in January of 2010.

A new patented cut uses the chicken’s scapula bone and surrounding meat and skin to yield six – not four – wing pieces per bird.

Covered by U.S. Patent (6,769, 977 B2) issued August 3, 2004, the cut produces high-value products from material which is currently sent to rendering or to mechanical deboning.

Yield and profitability improvements   

The new cut presents chicken processors with the opportunity to significantly improve yield and profitability. Data collected from performing the scapula cut on several brands and sizes of carcasses indicate that it could deliver up to an incremental $0.40 of revenue per carcass.

Moreover, the cut could also prove valuable to foodservice operators in two ways. First, the cut possesses roughly the same consumable mass as the average of a drummette/flat combination. However, as a result of a lower bone and gristle mass, there are roughly 20% more pieces per pound, which would lower foodservice operators’ cost of sales. Second, the cut creates the potential to increase the available supply of “wings,” relieving supply constraints throughout the year.

‘Chicken Wings Select’ is trade mark   

The patent describing the method for making the cut is titled, “Method for preparing fowl meat cut” by Ted V. Kuck. A step-by-step pictorial progression of how the cut is made is provided in this article. The product would be branded using the name, Chicken Wings Select.

Study: Comparison to wing portions   

In a study comparing Chicken Wing Select pieces to wing portions, broiler chicken carcasses from three different companies produced in three different areas of the U.S. were collected. The carcasses were cut-up, and the scapulas with associated meat and skin were removed.

Ten large carcasses (WOG) were evaluated from Company A (6.6 lb average weight). Four large carcasses (WOG) were evaluated from Company B (6.3 lb average weight). Six medium-large carcasses (WOG) were evaluated from Company C (5.0 lb average weight). After collection, these pieces were weighed and components of these pieces (meat, skin, and bone) were removed and weighed to determine percentages.

Study results: More meat   

The results obtained in the study are presented in the figures (Figures 1-5).

The new scapula cut contained approximately 58% meat, 25% skin and 16% bone (Figure 1). In comparison to wing drummettes and flats, the consumable mass is comparable to the traditional cuts as shown in Figure 2.

The consumable mass (edible portion) of the new scapula cut samples had roughly the same consumable mass as the flat portions, though these data varied with bird type. In one data set, the scapula cut had the same consumable mass as the drummettes and 12% more than the flats. These data demonstrate that the amount of meat and skin that a consumer would get from each piece of this new cut would compare very well to traditional wing cuts.

Figure 3 shows that on a percentage basis the new scapula cut contains more meat than the drummette (15% more) or the flat (23% more). Moreover, the scapula cut contains less skin than the wing flat, meaning that it would be more healthy and lower in fat than the wing flat portion.

Scapula cut is smaller   

As a percentage of the whole carcass, the new scapula cut is smaller, primarily because the drummette and wing flat have considerably more bone than the scapula (Figure 4).

Figure 5 shows that approximately 89% of the scapula cut is edible; whereas, only 68% of the drummette and 73% of the wing flat are edible. Another observation made during this study was that for every pound of product (new scapula cut) the consumer would get approximately 20% more pieces. This means that a company that sells wing portions would be able to sell 20% more pieces per pound. In addition, the larger the carcass from which the cut was made, the larger the pieces were as a percentage and on an absolute basis.
The economic benefits associated with making the effort to recover this part are significant and can be expressed in a number of ways.

Currently, the scapula and surrounding meat and skin remain on the frame after deboning, and, in most cases, the frames are sent to a mechanical deboning plant or to rendering. The amount that the processor gets for each of these frames is about $0.01. If the processor were to get two additional wing portions in the form of the new scapula cut weighing an average of 0.27 lbs/large carcass (based on the actual average amount recovered using this cut in the study) x $1.53/lb. (current price) for wings = $0.41/carcass. This means a gross increase in value of $0.40 per carcass over sending the frames for mechanical deboning. So, for a traditional poultry processor slaughtering 250,000 birds per day, the gross increase would be $100,000.

Assuming a plant runs its cone lines at 36 birds/minute at 85% utilization (14,500 birds/line/shift), this cut could generate an additional $1.5 million of revenue per line per shift per year. Incremental labor costs could be up to an additional five workers (to make these scapula cuts) at a cost of $25,000/worker/year, or $125,000/shift/yr. Under these assumptions, for a plant deboning 250,000 birds per day, operating 17 cone line shifts per day, this corresponds to an additional $26,000,000 in revenue offset by an incremental $2,128,000 of labor costs!

It is important to realize that the economics appear significantly better when harvesting the cut from larger birds if the incremental operating costs to produce the cut are the same regardless of the bird size, yet larger birds possess a higher yield.

Alternative embodiment – chicken ribs   

Some deboning lines do remove much of the meat on the upper surface of the scapula bone. However, there still remains a good portion of meat on the side and back of the bone. As such, an alternative option would be to serve the cuts as chicken ribs, with the effective yield enhanced by marinating and breading.

While the economics of this application would differ from using the scapula cut as a wing, the basic premise of uplifting the revenue per pound for a portion of the carcass from pennies to $1 or more remains.

Profit opportunity   

This new scapula cut represents a new opportunity for the poultry industry to greatly increase profits. Additionally, the problem of decreased wing supply to meet the ever-increasing demand for wings would also be greatly improved. Moreover, a typical processing plant that debones 250,000 carcasses per day can expect a gross profit increase of roughly $24,000,000/year just by making this cut, instead of allowing the carcass frame to be sold for mechanically deboned meat or sent to rendering.

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