Reality Check: There Is No Chicken-Wing Shortage — Prices Haven’t Really Soared Either

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Hey wing nuts: relax. Despite reports to the contrary, buffalo wings, chicken wings or whatever you want to call them will be widely available during Super Bowl weekend. And you won’t have to pay through the beak to enjoy them.

Is it time to start hoarding chicken wings? News reports timed to coincide with the Super Bowl have surfaced concerning a sharp rise in prices for wings, and even a supposed “chicken-wing shortage,” or, if you prefer, a “buffalo-wing crisis.” The situation seems so dire and the wing market seems to be so hot that it almost makes sense that a couple of men were just allegedly caught stealing $65,000 worth of frozen chicken wings.

For the most part, the concerns over wings can be traced back to a release from the National Chicken Council (NCC), which stated that “wholesale price of wings will be the most expensive ever during Super Bowl XLVII as demand rises and the supply has shrunk.”

So does that mean there actually is a chicken-wing shortage? Well, no. Not at all. Down a little lower in the NCC’s press release, in very plain English, it says the following:

Consumers shouldn’t worry about any shortage of wings on Super Bowl Sunday or anytime soon.

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O.K., but we should at least be in a panic about wing prices soaring through the roof, right? Well, that’s probably unnecessary too. The NCC highlights the fact that wing prices are now up to “about $2.11 a lb. (Northeast), the highest on record at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, up 26 cents or 14% from a year earlier.” But the numbers are misleading at best. Demand and prices for wings tend to be higher in the Northeast than in other parts of the U.S., and wholesale prices always spike during the early part of the year, thanks to the Super Bowl, March Madness and other wing-friendly events. The wholesale price of wings was often reported at $2 around the time of last year’s Super Bowl.

Besides, in last year’s report on wings, NCC vice president and chief economist Bill Roenigk told us all that there was no need to freak out about the annual spike in wholesale prices for chicken wings, which doesn’t really translate into a spike in retail prices paid by wing lovers:

“The good news for consumers,” said NCC’s Roenigk, “is that food service and retail outlets generally plan months in advance for the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl Sunday, meaning that increased wholesale costs for the most part aren’t passed on to consumers’ plates.”

Whether watching the game at a restaurant or at home, consumers will pay about the same for chicken wings this year as they did last year. And there sure as heck is no wing shortage. USA Today reported, “About 1.2 billion wings will be eaten this Super Bowl weekend — a big dip from 2012’s big game.” Just how big a dip? To clarify, the NCC says that 1.23 billion wings will be consumed during 2013’s Super Bowl weekend, 12.3 million fewer wings than last year’s estimated total (rounded up) of 1.25 billion. That’s a “big dip” of, like, 1%.

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It’s also worth noting that prices for most meats (not just chicken) are rising slightly as a result of last summer’s drought and that chicken is still much cheaper than beef.