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Americans Buy So Many Wings, They’re Now the Most Expensive Part of the Chicken

Each February, the nation's thirst for chicken wings hits the roof, making the delicate wing the most expensive bit of the bird

Image: James

Every year, in early February, the United States goes into a chicken wing crisis. Reports start flying that there aren’t enough of them to satisfy our Super Bowl cravings. Or at least that’s the rumor: there always seems to be a chicken wing shortage running up to the Super Bowl. While it’s probably not true that some unlucky sportfans will have to make do with guacamole alone, it is true that Americans love chicken wings.

U.S. News and World Reports debunked the “chicken wing shortage story” recently:

“This is going back to economics 101,” says Tim Petry, a livestock economist at North Dakota State University. “Surpluses and shortages do not exist if the price system is working. In other words, if we have less, the price goes up to ration the amount that’s available to consumers.”

So while consumers will be able to get their hands on wings, they may have to pay a bit more. Petry points out that wing prices are higher than they were last year. Currently, wholesale prices are around $2.10 per pound, he says, up from around $1.85 in early 2012. Prices also tend to go up in January of every year, with football being the primary reason.

And The Salt blog at NPR explains how this price jump has made wings the most expensive part of the chicken:

According to the 2013 Wing Report, Americans will eat 1.23 billion wings next weekend. If laid out end to end, they would “stretch from Candlestick Park in San Francisco to M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore 27 times.”

In an odd twist, the once-cheap wing has become the most desirable and expensive part of the chicken. Per pound, chicken wings are now pricier than bone-in chicken breasts, perhaps inspiring this epic wing heist.

“People say, ‘You ought to produce more wings,’” says Roemigk. This year’s Wing Report lays out the crucial obstacle: “A chicken has two wings, and chicken companies are not able to produce wings without the rest of the chicken.”

Wings are so valuable that, as the NPR blog alludes to, people actually steal them. The Consumerist detailed a chicken wing heist in Georgia:

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the two men were both employed at the storage company when 10 pallets — $65,000 worth — of Tyson chicken wings went missing on Jan. 12. This was before the Atlanta Falcons were eliminated from the playoffs, so perhaps the men were hoping they could cash in if the hometown team made the Super Bowl? Police say the alleged thieves used a forklift to put their purloined party snacks into the back of a rented truck.

The whereabouts of the wings are unknown.

The chicken wing has competition though. Here’s NPR again:

But the almighty chicken wing may not hold the Lombardi trophy for long. Others are trying to claim a piece of this lucrative Super Bowl snack market for their own. Taco Bell, for instance, released an ad calling tacos a “game day tradition.” The ad also laid a helmet-to-helmet hit on the idea of bringing veggies to a party (“Secretly, people kind of hate you for it”) — which aroused the ire of healthy-eating activists and convinced Taco Bell to pull the ad.

Tacos probably won’t replace wings this year though, when the Ravens face the 49ers, so stock up.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Wing Shortage Looms On Eve of Super Bowl
Chicken Wings
How the Chicken Conquered the World

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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