I'll Bite

Forget the weather – what’s the chicken wing outlook?

You may rush out for milk and bread this weekend, but you should find plenty of chicken wings.
You may rush out for milk and bread this weekend, but you should find plenty of chicken wings. Observer files

No one knows yet whether the Panthers will be bound for the Super Bowl (we hope, we hope, we hope). But I can predict one thing: Chicken wing sales will fly through the coop roof between now and Feb. 7.

And that means I can bring some early good news: Supplies and prices are both good this year, thanks to the weird way agriculture sometimes works.

The N.C. Department of Agriculture had already have been fielding calls from distributors checking on the supply of chicken wings since North Carolina is the fourth biggest state for poultry production (after Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas).

That’s understandable: Kim Decker, a marketing specialist with NCDA, acknowledged that chicken wing supplies do tend to get tight in January. After all, chickens only have two wings each (although each wing really has two parts, so I’ll let you wrestle with that math).

“This time of year, it’s hard to keep up with it,” he said. “Over the years, the price of wings and the popularity has increased.”

However, Tom Super, senior vice president of communications for the National Chicken Council in Washington, says that there’s no cause for alarm this year. While the official annual pre-Super Bowl chicken-wing report won’t come out until next week, he says that domestic supply should be good, and that means the price is good, too.

The reason? Avian flu. Apparently, one of the silver linings of the dark cloud that swept through Midwestern poultry farms last year is that many countries restricted trade for American turkeys and eggs. Trade restrictions, however, have to be pointed at all poultry products. So that means we haven’t been exporting as many of our chicken wings as usual. And that means inventory is up and prices are down.

Last year, Super says, consumption was about 1.25 billion chicken wings during the Super Bowl. (Yes, a man named Super is commenting on the Super Bowl.) This year, that’s projected to go up 3 percent. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that production also increased 2 to 3 percent this year, which keeps things about even.

One interesting note: Super also said that football fans in the Carolinas are expected to contribute to that increase in consumption. Sometimes, the NCC looks at football teams and U.S. Census regions, to see which teams’ fans are more likely to buy wings.

“The Charlotte area is always at the top,” he says. “When you compare it to New England and Seattle (the teams in last year’s Super Bowl), your region is always at the top.”

So, with the Panthers pushing into the playoffs, that means more of the fans who are more likely to be chicken wing eaters are having more chances to eat more wings.

But there should be plenty to go around.

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis