Chicken wings have become a staple food of Super Bowl parties in the U.S., and demand for them on menus is now at an all-time high leading up to the second biggest eating day of the year — Super Bowl Sunday.
Super Bowl weekend is unquestionably the biggest time of the year for wings. According to the National Chicken Council's 2013 Wing Report, more than 1.23 billion wing portions will be consumed during Super Bowl weekend in 2013, as fans watch the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens battle for the Lombardi Trophy.
Super Bowl wing consumption is down about one percent, or 12.3 million wings, compared to 2012 numbers, but not because demand for them is declining. Quite the opposite, said Bill Roenigk, chief economist and market analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based National Chicken Council. "Chicken companies produced about one percent fewer birds last year, due in large part to record-high corn and feed prices," said Roenigk. "Corn makes up more than two-thirds of chicken feed and corn prices hit an all-time high in 2012, due to two reasons: last summer's drought and pressure from a federal government requirement that mandates 40 percent of our corn crop be turned into fuel in the form of ethanol. Simply put, less corn equals higher feed costs, which means fewer birds produced."
Ranch dressing versus bleu cheese dressing
Almost six in 10 (57 percent) of U.S. adults who eat chicken wings said they typically like to eat their wings with ranch dressing, according to a new National Chicken Council poll conducted by Harris Interactive. Only about three in 10 (35 percent) prefer bleu cheese dressing.
Adults who eat chicken wings who live in the Northeast, though, are significantly more likely to prefer bleu cheese dressing (47 percent Northeast vs. 32 percent Midwest, 30 percent South and 32 percent West), while those in other parts of the country are more likely to prefer ranch dressing (65 percent Midwest, 56 percent South and 64 percent West vs. 44 percent Northeast). The data also show that nearly four in five U.S. adults (79 percent) eat chicken wings and that consumption does not vary significantly by region or gender. Women (77 percent) are just as likely as men (82 percent) to roll up their sleeves, break out the wet naps and eat a few wings.
Among adults who eat wings, women are more likely than men to say they like to eat their wings with celery (39 percent women vs. 28 percent men). After ranch dressing at the top: 43 percent of wing lovers chose barbecue sauce as their typical snack or dipping sauce; 38 percent said hot sauce; 35 percent said bleu cheese; and 34 percent chose celery. Fewer than one in five wing lovers (8 percent) described themselves as purists who eat nothing with their wings.
The vast majority of wings, especially those destined for restaurants, are disjointed, with the third joint (the thin part known as the flapper) being exported to Asian countries and the meatier first and second joints being sold domestically. The wing is usually split into two parts — or portions or segments — known as the "drumette" and the mid-section or "flat" and sold to restaurants or retail grocery outlets.
A chicken has two wings, and chicken companies are not able to produce wings without the rest of the chicken. Therefore, the supply of wings is limited by the total number of chickens produced. When the demand for wings is stronger than the demand for other chicken parts, the price of wings will go up, as it has since the beginning of 2012.
The wholesale price of wings will be the most expensive ever during Super Bowl XLVII as demand rises and the supply has shrunk. Wings are also currently the highest priced part of the chicken. Wholesale wings are currently at about $2.11 a pound (Northeast), the highest on record at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, up 22 cents or 12 percent from the same time in 2012. Wing prices always go up in the fourth quarter of the year as restaurants stock up for the Super Bowl and prices usually peak in January during the run-up to the big game. But many analysts expect that demand will hold steady even after the NFL season ends.
"Demand for wings is proving more and more to be inelastic," said Roenigk. "With the rising number of restaurants with menus dedicated to wings, the return of the NHL hockey season, the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament and then the start of grilling season, wing demand should remain hot."
But Roenigk also said that consumers shouldn't worry about any shortage of wings on Super Bowl Sunday or any time soon. "The good news for consumers is that restaurants plan well in advance to ensure they have plenty of wings for the big game," he said. "And some restaurants are promoting boneless wings and some are offering flexible serving sizes. But if you're planning to cook your own wings, I wouldn't advise being in line at the supermarket two hours before kickoff."
Retail grocery and supermarkets
According to Nielsen Perishables Group FreshFacts data, both fresh and prepared wings totaled $1.6 billion in sales for the 52 weeks ending November 24, 2012, an increase of 5.4 percent compared to 2011 numbers. Wing sales at grocery stores and supermarkets spike dramatically the week of the Super Bowl, but the data show that consumers also stock up the week before, too.
Originally on and off various fast-food menus, chicken wings have become a staple of casual dining and pizza places. Virtually every casual dining chain offers chicken wings as an appetizer, if not also as an entrée. Increasingly, ready-to-eat or heat-and-eat wings are showing up in the delicatessen and prepared foods section of supermarkets, a growing trend. "Orders at carry-outs and restaurants for chicken wings on Super Bowl Sunday will increase more on that day than any other winter Sunday — a 156 percent increase," said Harry Balzer, vice president of the NPD Group, a market research firm.