Wingflation: Exploring the Rise and Fall of Chicken Wing Prices

Chicken wings are a big business. For some restaurants, wings are the main attraction, with various sauces and condiments to create different flavor combinations. In other cases, wings are a staple side dish or appetizer, allowing customers to indulge their tastebuds before the main course. For operators, though, while demand is always high, chicken wing prices can make keeping the dish in stock and affordable challenging.

As the last few years have illustrated, wingflation, or the rising cost of chicken wings, is real. So operators must know how to adapt if or when it happens again.

The Price Journey: A Historical Exploration of Chicken Wing Prices

In 2019 and early 2020, wing prices were around $2.50 to $3.00 per pound. Typically, wings are a relatively cheap part of the chicken, meaning they’re easy to find and have a decent market value. Then, during the pandemic, chicken wing prices fluctuated wildly, going up to about $3.90 per pound in the spring of 2022.

In some areas, wing prices inflated, and supplies were so limited that foodservice establishments had to list their wings at “market price.” Fortunately, those days didn’t last too long, and the numbers came tumbling back down in the latter half of 2022. By early 2023, things had leveled out, and wings were back to around $2.70 per pound. This allowed operators to take advantage of Super Bowl demand, as Americans regularly eat over 1.4 billion wings during the game.

Behind the Numbers: Unraveling the Factors Influencing Wing Price Movements

Seeing wing prices fluctuate so wildly is one thing, but it’s imperative to understand what drives such tumultuous economics. Here are the factors that affected this last bout of wingflation, so operators can anticipate when another “perfect storm” may arrive again.

First, chicken wing prices reflect a matter of supply and demand. Demand for wings is always high, with about one billion servings of wings being ordered throughout any given year. Even at home, people love to cook wings because they’re cheap, hard to ruin, and delicious.

So, during the COVID-19 pandemic, supply levels dried up almost overnight. Because meat packing and processing plants had to close for health reasons, wings weren’t being produced like before. Although some processing plants reopened relatively quickly, the interruption caused a domino effect. Those interruptions took about three years to get smoothed out, allowing prices to fall back to pre-pandemic levels.

Finally, demand for wings can fluctuate throughout the year. Super Bowl season is typically in peak demand but can also fluctuate for other reasons. For example, if wings are unavailable for a time, customers are more likely to order them when they come back on the menu. This creates higher demand and lower supplies, so the cycle continues anew.

The Undeniable Popularity of Wings During Football Season

Although the Big Game is undeniably the main attraction for chicken wing sales, the dish is practically synonymous with football. But why? Well, it all goes back to Buffalo, New York. In fact, Buffalo Wings are named after the city, thanks to enterprising restaurateurs like John Young in the 1960s.

However, it was after the Buffalo Bills’ historic run of Super Bowl wins that wings took over the national stage. Suddenly, everything related to Buffalo was popular, including its saucy chicken. This made the two items inextricably linked, and it’s easier to see a tailgate party or sports bar with wings on game day.

Partly fueling the continued craze is the debate over drums vs. flats.¬†Both pieces are part of the wing, but die-hard fans usually have a preference for one over the other. As a rule, drums have more meat, but flats are easier to eat and can hold more sauce. As with most food debates, there isn’t a “right” answer, but operators can take advantage of the fervor to boost sales.

Optimizing Your Wing Program with the Pitco Wing Quiz

Regardless of the history of chicken wings, they’re here to stay. However, operators must be able to prepare them quickly and efficiently, so having a high-quality commercial fryer is imperative. Fortunately, Pitco can help operators determine their fryer needs with a customized wing quiz. By analyzing a business’s wing sales and other information, operators can find out more about how successful their wing program can become.

Ready to find out if your wing program is hot or not? Take our free quiz:

Pitco Wing Quiz

Topics: Chicken Wings