America becomes aware of chicken wing shortage just in time for Super Bowl Sunday

Illustration for article titled America becomes aware of chicken wing shortage just in time for Super Bowl Sunday
Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/Boston Globe (Getty Images)

There is a mystical connection between sporting events and chicken wings. I’m not sure why this is. Maybe it’s because you need only one hand to eat a chicken wing, which leaves you a whole other hand to make rude gestures at fans of the opposing team? Or maybe it’s because Buffalo wings were—allegedly—born in a bar in Buffalo during the Bills’ years of glory? Whatever the case, it is now traditional for America’s wing market to peak in March during the NCAA tournament and, most of all, in February, during the Super Bowl.

But this year is, of course, different. With a lack of much other excitement, every weekend sporting event has become like the Super Bowl, and Americans are scarfing down chicken wings like never before. The Washington Post did a thorough investigation (with charts!) and found that “the entire chicken industry will go through close to 1.4 billion wings, according to the National Chicken Council, up 2 percent from last year. Even with restaurant trips down 11 percent in 2020 because of the pandemic, wing sales jumped 7 percent, the council reported in its annual ‘Wing Report.’”

If you’re familiar with basic economics, you will have guessed by now that a shortage of wings means that the price will go up. But there are other factors in play as well: because of COVID, the entire production line has been disrupted. Chicken wing producers now also have to pay for PPA and sanitation equipment and make adjustments for worker shortages and changes to the transportation chain, and, as the Post notes, “those all get baked into the price of a wing.”

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Depending on where you shop, you may not notice the price increase, although the Post warns that some restaurants may be stingier than usual with discounts and deals. They may also be relying on wings pulled from cold storage and using bigger wings or (gasp!) boneless wings. But it doesn’t seem likely that this will be comparable to the toilet paper and yeast shortages of last spring. Which is good, because I have been subliminally influenced by all the pre-game food coverage and was sort of planning on making some wings this weekend myself. Just because.

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

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Wait, didn’t we have a chicken wing surplus last spring when we quarantined and nobody was able to go to sport bars and eat wings? Or am I experiencing post-covid brain fog and misremembering?