Jan 27, 2022 - Economy & Business

The great Buffalo wing inflation

Yum. Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Yum. Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Each chicken only has two wings, which create four wing pieces (two drumettes and two wingettes, to be precise) suitable for being fried, then doused in a mix of hot sauce and butter, then served to people watching NFL conference championship games this weekend.

  • So when demand for wings surges but demand for the rest of the chicken is steady, it creates big price swings — and a fun study in microeconomics.

By the numbers: Chicken wing prices are soaring, not just in absolute terms, but relative to other parts of the chicken.

  • The national retail price of frozen chicken wings was $3.71 a pound last week, according to an Agriculture Department report, 48% higher than a year ago.
  • In the same span, the price of fresh boneless, skinless chicken breast was up only 7.6%. The price of whole chickens was actually down slightly.

Relative demand for fatty, rich, messy parts of the chicken has surged versus the healthy parts of the chicken that most efficiently deliver lean protein.

An apparent culprit: Wings travel well, making them particularly appealing when people don't want to eat in. Pop-up restaurants and ghost kitchens have sprouted up to fulfill that demand, such as Applebees' "Cosmic Wings" delivery business.

The bottom line: People like things that are delicious, and relative chicken prices are starting to reflect that.

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