Threat of a Chicken Wing Shortage Grips Nation

Supplies are running low ahead of the biggest wing-consumption day of the year

The pandemic continues to touch our lives in ways we never expected. Today’s coronavirus-related ripple effect? A possible chicken wing shortage just ahead of the biggest wing-consuming weekend of the year.

Going into Super Bowl weekend, the average wholesale price of a pound of chicken wings is $2.65, up from $1.81 this time last year. And that’s if you can get them at any price; some restaurants are reporting that orders they’ve placed simply aren’t arriving.

Isaac Olvera, a commodities and data analyst who studies food supply chains told food industry trade publication Restaurant Business that cold storage supplies of wings are at their lowest levels since 2011.

The chicken wing shortage appears to be the work of two different pandemic trends colliding. One element is what Fat Brands COO Gregg Nettleton described as “lingering effects of the pandemic on the supply chain,” meaning a slowing in the production and shipment of the wings themselves.

Right after the shutdown in early 2020, when sports were canceled and bars shuttered, wing prices briefly crashed. Consumers were going to grocery stores and buying tons of chicken, but not wings, which are less popular for cooking at home. So, in turn, production slowed, so as not over-produce. In March, wings were going for just 97 cents a pound.

But pretty soon, wings made a huge comeback. People started ordering in like crazy, especially as televised sports resumed.

“What’s been really strange about this year is it’s actually been really strong since late summer, the demand for wings,” Christine McCracken, executive director of animal protein at Rabobank, told the Washington Post.

Wings, it turns out, do really well for takeout and delivery. They travel well, they’re affordable, and they’re comforting. Existing businesses have flourished, and ghost kitchen wing concepts have proliferated to keep up with demand.

You should still be able to order a tray of wings on Super Bowl Sunday, but you might notice it costs slightly more than your used to–or that the offerings are slightly different. Some companies will be pushing “boneless wings,” or thigh pieces this year, or encouraging consumers to try cauliflower or faux-chicken alternatives.

As Patrick Diessner, culinary director of Wingers, told Restaurant Business, “We will always be wingers and fingers, but we created other options to help our suppliers and give our customers alternatives that still taste good.”

RELATED: Game Day Food Specials for Your At-Home Super Bowl Watch

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