Watch out, those wings are hot!
But it’s not the deep fryer or the spicy red pepper sauce that’s heating them up. With droves of football fans poised to eat an estimated 1 billion chicken wings next weekend, restaurants and food purveyors across the Capital Region are contending with the skyrocketing price of this Super Bowl Sunday staple.
While most restaurateurs are accustomed to a modest increase in the cost of wings in January, they’re seeing an almost unprecedented jump this year. Wings that sometimes retail for as low as 99 cents per pound now cost nearly double due to overall demand and market pressures in the poultry industry.
“It’s through the roof,” said Kevin Myers, a chef at Gaffney’s Restaurant in Saratoga Springs.
Double A Food Provisions is selling wings for about 30 cents more than they were last year, said Tim Grundler, operations manager for the Queensbury-based food purveyor. He said the spiking price is indicative of the ordinarily high demand for wings in the run-up to the Super Bowl outstripping the market supply.
“There’s not much we can do about it,” he said. “There’s a shortage.”
Some are blaming the cost increase on the
recent bankruptcy filing of the nation’s largest poultry producer. The Texas-based Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December, citing the increased cost of corn feed and high debt load as its primary reasons.
Pilgrim’s bankruptcy filing was the latest blow to chicken producers, which experienced a pronounced downtrend throughout much of 2008. Slower sales and the higher cost of corn feed — driven in part by increased ethanol production — prompted chicken producers to clip their wings.
Richard Lobb, a spokesman for the National Chicken Council, said wings are costing about 15 percent more in the northeast than they did last year at this time. He attributed much of the jump in wholesale price to production declines instead of Pilgrim’s reorganization.
Lobb said the industry slashed production by nearly 5 percent last year. As a result, the ordinary spike in demand experienced in January and February may be magnified this year.
“I don’t think there’s any serious shortage here,” he said.
About 4 percent of the nation’s total annual chicken wing consumption occurs on Super Bowl Sunday, according to figures provided by the council. The U.S. Department of Agriculture lists the average retail price for ready-to-cook chicken wings at $1.93 per pound, up from $1.52 a year ago.
Indeed, most area restaurants will still keep wings on the menu at their normal price even if they aren’t making much on them. Pat Else, the owner of Scarboroughs in Rotterdam, said she’ll rely on other menu items to make her profit on Super Bowl Sunday, even if she is breaking even or taking a loss on her restaurant’s trademark wings.
“We still see it as a money-making night,” she said. “It’s not just wings, it’s wings and other things.”
Joe Shea, general manager of the Stadium Cafe in Saratoga Springs, plans to sell his wings at their usual price, even though his price per case has jumped by nearly $12 over the course of the week. Instead of making a modest profit, he said the restaurant would have to “bite the bullet.”
“Every year I expect it because of the Super Bowl,” he said. “But this is the first year it’s gone up this much.”
Not all food retailers are concerned about the spike in wing prices. Spokeswoman Mona Golub said Price Chopper supermarkets will offer discounts on wings because the company secured a fixed price for them in the months leading up to their peak demand during the last day of football season.
“We prepare ourselves for the onslaught of the Super Bowl,” she said.