With the Super Bowl less than a week away, the price of chicken wings is weighing on the mind of some business owners.
Prices for what is now one of the most expensive parts of the bird have increased to some of their highest levels in years. It’s created a dilemma for Victoria Phan, operator of the Egg Harbor Township Wings to Go franchise, which charges $7.75 for 10 jumbo wings, including dressing and celery.
Phan said she thought about passing along the high cost to customers but resisted the urge because she already is seeing a slowdown in business.
“I worry about this year,” she said. “Football season has already slowed down by half.”
Last week’s retail prices for a pound of fresh uncooked wings in the Northeast averaged $2.41 — about 18 percent more than around the same time last year and more than 30 percent more than five years ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In comparison, a regular pack of split, bone-in breast averaged $1.82 a pound in the Northeast and a regular pack of drumsticks averaged $1.33 a pound last week.
The National Chicken Council said record high corn and feed prices have contributed to high wing prices this year. That is because corn makes up more than two-thirds of chicken feed, which had its price was affected by last summer’s drought and a federal mandate that 40 percent of the corn crop be turned into ethanol, according to the council.
The council estimated that more than 1.2 billion wing portions will be consumed during Super Bowl weekend — enough to stretch wings end to end from San Francisco to Baltimore 27 times. Northeast adults prefer blue cheese dressing while other parts of the country appear to prefer ranch, according to the council.
Dennis Roberts, who owns The Bellevue Tavern in Cape May Court House, said that for the last 10 years he’s noticed a spike in the cost of chicken wings leading up to the Super Bowl.
“It normally goes up about 30 percent,” he said.
This year, he said, the cost of wings has gone up about 50 percent since November.
Roberts said that menus have already been printed, and he will not raise the price prior to the Super Bowl. If the cost of wings continues to rise after the Super Bowl, because of a poultry shortage, he will then consider raising prices.
Currently, the Bellevue charges $7.99 for a dozen wings, blue cheese and celery.
Selling wings has never been the most profitable part of the business at Tailgaters Bar and Grille in Galloway Township, but it’s as much of a food necessity as ketchup, said Ari Frangias, one of the owners.
Offering the wings at $7.99 for 10, with a Wednesday special of 35-cent wings, may not make the tavern much money but it may encourage patrons to order drinks and other food to accompany their order, he said.
This year, Frangias ordered 20 cases of fresh jumbo chicken wings just for the Super Bowl, and another 10 just in case he ran out. That’s 1,200 pounds of chicken wings, or in excess of 12,000 pieces of wings.
“I overshot it because I don’t want to run out,” Frangias said of his wing order.
Expecting the price to be high and knowing he wanted a large supply, Frangias locked into a price early that saved him about 28 cents a pound. Frozen wings would have been cheaper but he decided to stay with fresh, he said.
Prices always go up every year around the big game, even though the excuses change, said Dave Transue, meat manager for the Tilton Market, a grocery store in Northfield.
“You kind of get callous to the excuses,” he said. “Most suppliers, any excuse they can find, they’ll do it — whether it be feed or gas to get the product to the market.”
In Somers Point, at Charlie’s Bar & Restaurant, owner Jeff Thomas said he foresaw higher wing prices last year. He raised his menu prices in June and doesn’t expect to increase them again. Thirteen wings at Charlie’s now cost $7.48, not including blue cheese sauce.
The restaurant will get a delivery of fresh wings on Wednesday, and a second one on Saturday, allowing preparers to get them ready for the Super Bowl on Sunday.
“We’ll have enough,” Thomas said. “We will not run out.”
The Tilton Inn in Northfield has not raised prices this year, owner Mark Ulrich said. Ulrich did acknowledge that chicken wings are getting more expensive.
“We won’t have any changes until after the Super Bowl,” he said. “At this point we’re planning to order pretty much the same number as last year.”
Ulrich said he uses fresh chicken as often as possible because it is cheaper. He plans to order 700 to 800 pounds at the end of this week. At the Tilton Inn, eight wings cost $7.25 and 20 cost $11.25.
Most tavern owners aren’t concerned about the supply of wings and are willing to pay for the increase, said Christine Sutor, whose family owns Robert’s Place in Margate, where 10 pieces cost $7.50 with a serving of blue cheese and celery.
“They always up the prices on wings and ribs,” she said. “We usually try to five days before (the Super Bowl) buy up as many as we can.”
Bob Blutinger, co-owner of the Boyard Food Market in Ocean City, remembered a time when wings were considered an inexpensive part of the bird and chicken breast was the preferable cut. He said he tries to re-instill that appreciation for breast meat through the market’s five-pound platter of boneless buffalo chicken tenders, which he sells for $35.
Rather than gnawing around bone, chicken tenders give eaters more meat, Blutinger tells customers.
“I’ve educated the people who have come in here as well as some of the other places,” he said.
At the same time, Blutinger said he doesn’t suspect the popularity of chicken wings to wane any time soon.
“I’ve said it for a long time, if you want to become a billionaire, invent a chicken with four wings,” he said.
Staff writer David Simpson contributed to this report.
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