Chicken Wings Fly To Unheard-of Highs As Buffalo Wing Craze Rolls On

WASHINGTON – Sept. 21, 2009 – America’s taste for chicken wings has driven the wholesale price of the tasty tidbits to unprecedented highs, with wings actually selling for more than boneless, skinless breast, traditionally the highest-priced part of the bird, the National Chicken Council reported today.

“Wings are hot, hot, hot,” said Bill Roenigk, senior vice president and chief economist of the trade association representing chicken production and processing companies. “The demand for wings from casual dining restaurants, carryout stores, and retail groceries is extremely strong. Even export demand is adding to the market strength.” Some wingtips are exported, although very few whole wings are sent out of the country.

As of Monday, Sept. 21, wings were selling for a weighted average price of $1.48 per pound wholesale in northeastern U.S. markets, while boneless and skinless breast was selling for $1.13 per pound, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Poultry Market News Service. The spread of 35 cents per pound in favor of wings is unprecedented, Roenigk said.

“Wings have never outsold boneless, skinless breast on a sustained basis,” he said. Boneless, skinless breast has been the industry’s premier product, in terms of price, since it hit the market in the 1980’s, about the same time the boom in Buffalo wings got underway, Roenigk said. But breast meat has always commanded a higher price – until now.

“Boneless, skinless breast has sold for as much as 90 cents per pound more than wings, although the gap has narrowed in recent years,” Roenigk said. “In 2008, breast meat averaged 23 cents per pound more than wings.”

Roenigk said the runaway popularity of Buffalo wings as appetizer items, or even entrees, at casual dining restaurants is most likely the most important key to today’s unusual price situation. Also contributing is the growing popularity of restaurants that specialize in chicken wings. Texas-based Wingstop has more than 600 locations, he noted, and like several other wing concepts, is expanding while other foodservice chains are pulling back. The sale of chicken wings through pizza shops and delivery chains is also a factor, he said.

“People love wings more than ever,” Roenigk said.

Wing prices always go up in the fourth quarter of the year as restaurants stock up for the National Football League’s Super Bowl in early February. In January 2009, rumors circulated of an impending shortage of chicken wings, which proved to be unfounded.

NCC estimates that, in the year 2009, over 13 billion chicken wings (2.8 billion pounds) will be marketed as wings (as opposed to the wings on whole chicken or breast quarters). Of these, 9.5 billion wings (2.0 billion pounds) will be sold through foodservice channels. Another 3.5 billion wings (800 million pounds) will be sold in retail grocery stores.

The vast majority of wings, especially those destined for foodservice, 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 (the “drummette” and the two-bone “flat”) being sold domestically. The actual number of wing portions sold is well over 30 billion since so many full wings are cut into portions.

The National Chicken Council represents integrated chicken producer-processors, the companies that produce and process chickens. Member companies of NCC account for approximately 95 percent of the chicken sold in the United States.

CONTACT: Richard L. Lobb (202) 296-2622 ext. 119 rlobb@chickenusa.org

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