What are Americans going to be eating during the Big Game? Chances are, the spread will include chicken wings. According to the National Chicken Council, Americans will consume 1.45 billion chicken wings as they watch the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles battle it out in Arizona. And the wing-fest does not stop there: March Madness is March 14-April 3, so operators can expect several weeks of strong wing sales this spring.
As foodservice operators prepare for the humble wing’s biggest time of year, here is what they should keep in mind:
You may be tempted to read that heading again. After all, how can wings be cheaper? This blog has covered inflation’s effect on food prices, and eggs are particularly expensive due to an outbreak of bird flu. While that is true, poultry farmers select different breeds and farming practices for egg laying chickens and chickens raised for meat. Because of those differences, chickens raised for meat were less vulnerable to this year’s strain of bird flu than egg laying chickens. As a result, the USDA reports that most cuts of chicken are cheaper than they were this time last year.
Even if chicken wings are not an operator’s highest margin item, this is still good news, as the salty and spicy wing sauce drives up beer sales. The drop in wing prices is a huge opportunity for operators to protect their bottom line during an otherwise slow time of year.
Don’t Forget Vegetarians and Vegans
COVID-19 accelerated the rise of plant-based and plant-forward diets, so any post-pandemic wing season should include meatless options. While cauliflower wings are delicious, cauliflower prices spiked due to La Niña weather patterns. Instead, go with guacamole—avocado prices are down 20% due to a bumper crop in Mexico.
Ditch the Celery
According to the St. Louis Fed, celery prices are through the roof right now. This makes the traditional chicken wing garnish significantly more expensive than last year. And let’s be honest, does anyone even like the celery? While I could not find any data on the topic, I suspect the answer is “No.”
If operators believe celery is essential, they could save money by cutting celery into slightly smaller sticks or by asking consumers if they want celery with their wings.
The Bottom Line
After three years, it feels incredible to feel safe enough to gather with friends, dig into delicious food, cheer for our favorite team, and watch Rihanna absolutely slay during the halftime show. With all the recent inflation worries, it is also nice to see some foods going down in price. By taking advantage of low wing prices, including plant-based options, and being flexible with more expensive ingredients, foodservice operators can leverage the major sporting events scheduled through Easter.