A year ago, chicken wing prices took flight. This year, just in time for football season, gravity asserted itself.
After reaching all-time high prices last fall of $2.18 per pound, wholesale chicken wing prices have tumbled 36 percent this year to $1.40 a pound, according to Russ Whitman an analyst with Urner Barry, a New Jersey-based protein market trade publication.
"That’s significant money," Whitman said. "It’s not a nickel or a dime. It’s crazy."
It’s a touchdown celebration for football fans and chicken wing restaurants.
Wingstop, one of the bigger chains focused on the chicken wing, noted in its latest earnings report that net income was up and cost of goods sold was down compared with a year ago, thanks mostly to a 22.9 percent decrease in the cost of bone-in wings.
Last year’s price climb was blamed on the convergence of several forces.
One was demand. For years, restaurants with no discernible wing heritage have been putting wings on their menus, in large part because Americans love wings. U.S. consumers gobble up more than 1 billion wings just during the Super Bowl.
A second factor was that chicken producers were moving smaller birds to market. Smaller birds have smaller wings, so the jumbo wings that restaurants use were less plentiful.
Finally, there were a lot fewer wings being held in cold storage at this time last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Stocks in cold storage help keep prices stable with a ready supply of product.
Basic economics took over. Lower supply and high demand meant rising prices. Like any other product, popularity ultimately dictates price. Wing prices got so high last year and restaurants were suffering so much that many of them took stock of their menu options and moved away from bone-in wings to boneless "wings."
This year has been the opposite. Cold storage stocks in the two biggest regions for wing warehousing — the mid-Atlantic and the south central U.S. — are up 69 percent and 28 percent, respectively, compared with a year ago.
But don’t expect lower wing prices to mean more of those cheap promotions from yesteryear, like 50-cent wing night. Instead, expect to keep seeing boneless wings on menus because breast meat has also gotten a lot cheaper compared with a year ago, when it was $1.43 a pound, Urner Barry said.
"Boneless chicken breasts are at a record low," Whitman said. "Ninety-three cents a pound."
So, whether its bone-in, boneless, fried, smoked or baked, wing fans should get their money’s worth this season.