General News

Chicken wing shortage leaves restaurants scrambling for more. ‘It’s a predicament’

With all adults in the U.S. now eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, many are hopeful the pandemic may soon come to an end — but the restaurant industry is among many still feeling the pandemic’s financial effects.

Over the year, countless items became difficult — if not impossible — to find, due in large part to disruptions in manufacturing chains.

Toilet paper, cereal, disinfectant wipes, appliances, cans, furniture and boats were all elusive at one point or another, just to name a few.

Now, there’s another item to add to the list: chicken wings.

Connie Richardson, an owner of Nuby’s Steakhouse in Illinois, said she’s never seen anything like it in her 30 years in business.

“We had started stocking up about a month ago a little here and there and we’ll just deal with it,” she told KTVI. “If we run out of boneless, we have the option to do bone-in.”

The restaurant had to put a cap on how many traditional wings customers could order during its Thursday-night wing special, sometimes asking them to switch over to boneless, according to the outlet.

Stee Heimsath, who owns E. L. Flanagan’s, had to take a more drastic measure.

“It’s a predicament, we had to cancel our wing Wednesday promotion because we weren’t certain we would have the wings,” Heimsath told KTVI. “Some of the vendors are rationing who they’ll give wings too.”

The price of wings has skyrocketed — about 150% — as of late, Richard Dickmann told WLWT. He owns a Kentucky restaurant called Smoke Justis.

Dickmann is among several restaurant owners and experts who attribute the shortage to labor issues at chicken factories.

“The reason for it is not necessarily a shortage of chickens, but a shortage of the processing plant workers,” Dickmann told WLWT. “So employment is a problem.”

To make matters worse, the National Chicken Council has said chicken wing sales have spiked during the pandemic because they’re so take-out friendly, according to WIVB.

Chicken wing sales were up about 7% last year, according to market reports, The Associated Press reported.

Tom Super, with the National Chicken Council, is hesitant to call the situation a shortage, but says supplies are definitely limited.

“Wing supplies are tight, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say there is a ‘shortage,’” Super said, per KTVI. “Chicken producers are doing everything they can to overcome the devastating impact of Mother Nature when she inflicted the once-in-a-lifetime winter storm on Texas and nearby states — major chicken producing regions.”

In February 2021 prices spiked — which isn’t uncommon around the Super Bowl — but this year, they hit an all-time high of $2.71 a pound and kept rising, the outlet reported.

“Americans really, really like our wings,” said Paul Aho, an international chicken consultant who owns a firm called Poultry Perspective, told the AP. “Wings tend to be more inelastic than other chicken products. If breast meat gets too high, people stop buying it or they buy less of it. But wings — now wings are things that are important. There’s nothing like them. Gotta have them.”

Other chicken products, however, haven’t been a problem.

“There’s no shortage on traditional chicken breasts, chicken tenders, things like that,” Dan Ponton, president and chief executive of Roosters, told The Dayton Daily News. “The traditional wings, it’s actually becoming a national shortage.”

Wing frenzy and supply chain issues are taking a toll on customers’ wallets as some restaurants are forced to raise their prices if they want to keep selling wings.

Gary Urunoski, general manager at Pennsylvania’s Windsor Inn, used to pay about $60 for a case of 240 wings prior to the pandemic, he told The Citizens’ Voice. Now, the same size case runs $150.

“You need to charge more than $1 a wing now,” he told the newspaper. “Wing prices have always changed week-to-week and fluctuated based on supply and demand and the season. Now, the price is just through the roof.”

Urunoski has also been having a tough time getting his orders filled — the Windsor Inn typically order 35 cases of wings a week, but only received eight last week.

“We were lucky to get that,” he told the Times. “Some of the vendors say they’re limiting their customers to one case. It’s to the point they just can’t get them.”

Kelvin Dooley, owner of J & K Style Grill in Virginia, said he’s been shorted cases of wings and heading to a local Restaurant Depot to make up the difference, the AP reported, but even the store is limiting purchases.

“We’re having to scramble,” Dooley told the outlet.

Other restaurant owners have said their supply chains — specifically for medium-sized wings — have proven strong, despite others’ issues.

“I don’t want to put too fine a point on this: We have 24 stores, and all of them, all the way from Adrian, Mich., down to North College Hill, Cincinnati, have had no trouble at all,” Jim Manley, marketing manager for Fricker’s USA, told the Daily News. “And again, we set this up long, long before. We put this into play years ago, with the purveyors we have, we just don’t have a problem.”

Tom Super, with the National Chicken Council, is hesitant to call the situation a shortage, but says supplies are definitely limited.

“Wing supplies are tight, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say there is a ‘shortage,’” Super said, per KTVI. “Chicken producers are doing everything they can to overcome the devastating impact of Mother Nature when she inflicted the once-in-a-lifetime winter storm on Texas and nearby states — major chicken producing regions.”

Super, of the National Chicken Council, said restaurants and wing fans, alike, will just have to be patient.

“It will take time and effort to eventually replace the impacted hatchery supply flocks” hit hard by the winter storms.

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