Flavor & Menu Trends

Chicken Wing Wholesale Prices Down; Operators Win

The sky isn't falling but the price of chicken wings sure has. That has operators smiling.

Remember last year at this time when the price of chicken wings soared faster than our national deficit. It was a calamity of the first magnitude, coinciding with the Super Bowl (how convenient), and restaurant and pizzeria owners across the land shed bitter tears - hot, medium and mild - over the wholesale price of wings.

What a difference a year makes.

The wholesale price of chicken wings has plummeted nearly 40 percent in the last three months to levels previously unthought of, but if you listen closely to some distributors the prices are about to trend up again.

"We were told that it was a simple matter of oversupply," said Mark LaMartina, director of operations at Latina Foodservice, a Buffalo, NY based foodservice distributor. "There was a glut on the market and manufactures seemed to be simply dumping product on the market to get rid of it, but now we are being told the party is over. Prices are supposed to go up."

Handicapping the wholesale chicken wing market is serious business in this part of the country. The wing, as it is known today - deep fried, coated in a piquant sauce - was invented here and the term Buffalo-style has become universally embraced to mean a particular flavor profile as identifiable as ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise.

When pressed to speculate that the anticipated price rise was a timed event by suppliers, LaMartina demurred.

"No," he said. "It all happened so fast. We don't see it rising to last year's levels. It's kind of wait-and-see. If you remember last year, the price hikes started well before the holidays before cresting at the Super Bowl. Operators adjusted to the new levels. The price drop was completely unexpected."

Translation: don't expect retail prices of chicken wings to drop anytime soon. 

The rise of chicken wings last year was one of the leading foodservice stories of 2010 (although major industry trend predictors completely failed to forsee this occurance). They appeared on more menus, across more segments of the industry, and their price was never higher. 

Chicken wings became synonyms with pizza as the default food item of choice for consumers seeking a shareable food experience. 

Pizza and wings. It is almost commonly accepted that these two coexist above and beyond any other choices for the millions of people who will gather around to watch the big game. It's a formula that started in Buffalo, NY decades ago but to which now the rest of the nation has adopted as a defacto game day strategy.

And that leaves those who serve both as big winners when kickoff time rolls around. The price of mozzarella has also dropped dramatically, adding a few more cents of margin to operators bottom line. 

So no matter who takes home the big trophy, chances are there will be many winners on that magical Sunday evening, demonstrating once again the rules of supply and demand, and that there is always room for a comeback.

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