Amid unnerving reports that spread from Buffalo to Pittsburgh and even Seattle about a potential shortage of chicken wings heading into the Super Bowl, authorities say, yes, production is down and, yes, prices are up.
“But there's plenty of wings,” assured Richard Lobb, spokesman for the National Chicken Council in Washington.
For those scoring at home, that'll mean about 1 billion wings scarfed down this weekend.
In the past week or so, some fretted that the spicy snack would be scarce for a number of reasons: the highest wholesale and retail prices in recent memory; an industrywide drop in production of about 5 percent; a bankruptcy filing from major Texas producer Pilgrim's Pride, though it remains in business; and a push to sell wings by restaurant chains like Pizza Hut and KFC. Taken together, connoisseurs worried that demand would outstrip supply.
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And chicken wings were indeed missing for a day from the kitchen of one Niagara Falls restaurateur, but that was by design. Owner Sam Musolino refused to serve wings at Sammy's Pizzeria on Monday to protest the annual price increases that arrive every year just in time for the big football weekend.
“They're basically just taking advantage of the pizzerias,” said Musolino, who said he was paying $46 per 40-pound box of wings before the price jumped to $78 for the same case.
Lobb said the price is up because feed prices have gone through the roof and chicken producers have had to cut production as consumers have cut spending at casual dining restaurants that favor chicken dishes. That slump recently led to a glut of chicken on the market.
Now that supply is smaller and prices are up, Musolino said he can't pass along the temporary spike to customers – not that they'd pay anyway. “Everyone's so tapped out these days, there's no way you can raise the prices.”
It's no trivial thing in this city that gave the world Buffalo wings. Anchor Bar owner Teressa Bellissimo first deep fried the wings and dunked them in hot sauce on a Friday night in 1964 when her son Dominic's friends dropped in while he was tending bar. Until then, the wings were usually used for the stock pot.
Wholesale prices for fresh wings are up to $1.51 a pound this week, compared with $1.24 last year. But as of Jan. 1, the poultry industry had 38.3 million pounds of chicken wings on hand, down slightly from about 40 million pounds a year earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“It's America's No. 1 appetizer,” said Drew Cerza, founder of Buffalo's annual chicken wing festival.