While the wholesale price of chicken wings is at an all-time high, Wyoming Valley eateries say that won't curb Super Bowl sales or appetites.
Wholesale wings cost about $2.11 a pound today in the Northeastern United States, the highest level on record, up 26 cents, or 14 percent, from a year earlier, according to the National Chicken Council. The organization recently issued its annual Wing Report and projected more than 1.23 billion wing portions will be consumed during Super Bowl weekend.
While that number sounds impressive, it's actually down about 1 percent, or 12.3 million wings, compared to last year's numbers. Consumption is projected to decline because of the lack of available chickens, not because demand for them is waning, said Bill Roenigk, chief economist and market analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based council.
Chicken companies produced about 1 percent fewer birds last year, due in large part to record high corn and feed prices, Roenigk said. Corn makes up more than two-thirds of chicken feed, and corn prices hit an all-time high in 2012 due to two reasons: last summer's drought and pressure from a federal government requirement that mandates 40 percent of our corn crop be turned into fuel in the form of ethanol.
Less corn equals higher feed costs, which means fewer birds produced, he said.
The math might add up for the Chicken Council, but area wing sellers say they do not expect to see any loss of sales.
Jaston Misto, owner of Bottlenecks Saloon & Eatery with locations in Wilkes-Barre and West Hazleton, said he does not believe the price hike will deter people from purchasing them.
He said people said that $4-a-gallon gas was a psychological threshold, but people kept driving once prices broke that plateau. The same would happen with wings, he said.
But one wing consumer disagrees.
Jim Roberts, of Kingston Township, said he's getting to the point now that wings are starting to fall out of his price range.
He recalls when wings were sold for 25 cents a piece. Then they rose to 35 then 39 cents each. Now, even on a good special, it's hard to find them below 45 or 50 cents a wing.
At 50 cents, I'd need to think twice, said Roberts, who professes to enjoying hot wings and making them a part of his Super Bowl dining options.
If the price goes up, I could easily … choose other Super Bowl delicacies, Roberts said.
Joe Fasula, owner of the nine Gerrity's Markets throughout the region, believes that for most, wings have become so ingrained into the menu for football games, happy hours or other social events that the cost has little to no impact on sales.
He said his markets sold 20,000 of them last year for Super Bowl weekend, and he's expecting this year's sales to be the same.
As to whether wing eaters will scale back as prices rise, he doesn't believe so.
I can't see that happening, I think they're just too popular, Fasula said.
It's quite a change from 25 years ago.
Fasula recalls his father telling him wings were so worthless they usually went right into the garbage.
‘You couldn't give them away' my dad would say, Fasula recalled. But then the wing explosion occurred and restaurants dedicated to selling the fatty, deep-fried pieces of goodness sprung up, Fasula added.
Now, what were once pieces of worthless chicken are the most expensive piece of the bird.
They're even more expensive, per pound, than breast meat, Fasula said.
Town Tavern's managing partner Roger Rugletic, who creates all 30 wing flavors for the Duryea eatery, said he believes the increasing price of wings is altering some buying habits of wing lovers.
He has noticed an increase in the sale of the eatery's sauces to go, which means more people are making wings at home that they can buy for a lower price.
Making wings at home isn't for everyone, said Roberts, who has tried and succeeded but learned it's much more convenient to pay someone else to do it and clean up the mess.
The National Chicken Council says that Americans will eat 1.23 billion chicken wings over Super Bowl weekend.
If someone with a lot of free time were to take those 1.23 billion wings and lay them end-to-end, they would stretch from Candlestick Park in San Francisco to M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore … 27 times.
According to Nielsen Perishables Group FreshFacts data, both fresh and prepared wings totaled $1.6 billion in sales for the 52 weeks ending Nov. 24, 201 2, an increase of 5.4 percent compared to a year earlier.