Chicken wings are a staple at most Super Bowl parties, and demand for them will be at an all-time high leading up to the big game Feb. 3 when the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens battle for the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans. Americans will eat more than 1.23 billion wing portions during Super Bowl weekend, according to the National Chicken Council's 2013 Wing Report.
Wingstop is just one fast casual chain gearing up for its biggest Super Bowl Sunday, predicting sales to be up 15 percent over last year.
“The Super Bowl is the second biggest eating holiday of the year, after Thanksgiving,” said Charlie Morrison, Wingstop president and CEO.
Ninety percent of Wingstop guests order wings to go on Super Sunday, so the chain is accepting online pre-orders for the big game now through Wednesday, Jan. 30.
Although Wingstop expects more wing sales this year than in 2012, Super Bowl wing consumption, overall, is down about 1 percent, or 12.3 million wings, compared to last year's numbers, according to the National Chicken Council. But it’s not because demand for them is declining, said Bill Roenigk, chief economist and market analyst for the NCC.
"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 last summer's drought and pressure from a federal government requirement that mandates 40 percent of the corn crop be turned into fuel in the form of ethanol.
“Simply put, less corn equals higher feed costs, which means fewer birds produced,” Roenigk said.
The chicken shortage won't be an issue for Wingstop, Morrison said.
“We’ll have plenty of wings to meet the demand from fans,” he said. “We have great suppliers who are committed to our success that we work with months in advance to make sure we have all the product we need, and that is the case again this year."
Ranch defeats bleu cheese
Almost six in 10 (57 percent) U.S. adults who eat chicken wings said they typically like to eat their wings with ranch dressing, according to a National Chicken Council poll conducted by Harris Interactive. Only about three in 10 (35 percent) prefer bleu cheese dressing.
It’s not only about ranch and bleu cheese, however 43 percent of wing lovers chose barbecue sauce as their typical snack or dipping sauce; 38 percent said hot sauce and 34 percent chose celery. Fewer than one in five wing lovers (8 percent) described themselves as purists who eat nothing with their wings.
Adults who eat chicken wings who live in the Northeast, though, are significantly more likely to prefer bleu cheese dressing (47 percent Northeast vs. 32 percent Midwest, 30 percent South and 32 percent West), while those in other parts of the country are more likely to prefer ranch dressing (65 percent Midwest, 56 percent South and 64 percent West vs. 44 percent Northeast).
The data also show that nearly four in five U.S. adults (79 percent) eat chicken wings and consumption doesn’t vary significantly by region or gender. Women (77 percent) are just as likely as men (82 percent) to indulge in a few wings.
"We also know that (chicken wing eaters) are nonpartisan and politically independent. That is, there are really no extreme left wings or extreme right wings,” Roenigk said.
The rest of the year
Although Americans’ demand for chicken wings is no higher than during Super Bowl weekend, they’ll eat more than 13.25 billion chicken wings — about three billion pounds — this year. The actual number of wing portions sold is estimated to be 26.5 billion because, as noted above, the vast majority of wings are cut into two segments or portions. This is about a 2-percent decrease from 2012, reflecting chicken production estimates for 2013.
Read more about trends.