As Americans plan their menus for Super Bowl Sunday, the second biggest eating day of the year after Thanksgiving, few items will be more prominent on viewers’ plates than America’s favorite appetizer – chicken wings.
Super Bowl weekend is unquestionably the biggest time of the year for wings. More than 1.25 billion wing portions will be consumed during Super Bowl weekend in 2012, totaling more than 100 million pounds of wings, according to the National Chicken Council’s (NCC) 2012 Wing Report. If the wings were laid end-to-end they would circle the circumference of the Earth – more than twice – a distance that would reach approximately a quarter of the way to the moon.
Some 23 percent of those who watch the big game will eat chicken wings, up slightly in popularity from last year, and second only to dips and spreads (32 percent) on Super Bowl menus, according to the third annual Supervalu Snack Down Survey by Harris Interactive.
NCC Senior Vice President and Chief Economist Bill Roenigk points out that chicken wings will be consumed by three times the number of Americans on Super Bowl Sunday than a typical Sunday throughout the year. About half will be ordered from restaurants and half purchased from retail grocery stores.
“Foodservice and retail grocery stores should really be commended for helping chicken companies take a small part of the chicken and make it such a big part of Super Bowl Sunday,” Roenigk said. “Whether the wings are mildly-spiced, medium-spiced or super-hot, restaurants and grocery stores have made wings a bigger part of menus throughout the year.”
While the Super Bowl is an extremely popular television event – with 111 million viewers in 2011 – there are still about 196 million Americans who will not tune into the game.
“Chances are good that those people not watching the Patriots and Giants battle for the Lombardi Trophy on February 5th will be at home eating their normal Sunday night dinner,” added Roenigk. “Chances are very good that some other part of the bird is on their plates, too.”
Research from The NPD Group points to the same conclusion.
“Other chicken dishes are seven times more popular than wings on Super Bowl Sunday,” added Harry Balzer, chief food and beverage industry analyst and vice president of The NPD Group. “Chicken is a very popular dish overall on that day… and it’s not just wings.”
AFC/NFC Championship Outcome Affects Super Bowl Consumption
According to NPD Group data, not all regions of the country are equal when it comes to eating wings.
This year’s Super Bowl matchup between the New York Giants and New England Patriots should hold wing consumption relatively steady compared to last year’s levels. That is because New Englanders and Patriots fans are six percent less likely than the national average to order chicken wings at a food service establishment, but fans of the New York Giants and those others in the Mid-Atlantic region are 24 percent more likely.
A New York Giants – Baltimore Ravens match-up would have produced maximum wing consumption out of the four possible Super Bowl match-ups. Those in the South Atlantic region, including Ravens fans, are 27 percent more likely than the national average to order chicken wings at a food service establishment.
Should the San Francisco 49ers have won in overtime and faced the Patriots, wing consumption would have taken a hit. Those in the in the Pacific region are 34 percent less likely to order wings.
Wing-specific Restaurants are Hot on Super Bowl Weekend
Wingstop, a Texas-based restaurant franchise with 500 locations, expects to sauce and toss 5.6 million wings on Super Bowl Sunday alone – an increase of 12 percent over 2011. The company’s Super Bowl sales are, on average, 290 percent over the average Sunday, with the most popular wing flavors on that day being 1) Original Hot, 2) Lemon Pepper and 3) Hickory Smoked BBQ.
“The menu at a watching party has become almost as important as who wins the Super Bowl. Wingstop was founded almost 20 years ago, and since then we’ve seen an enormous increase in the popularity of wings as a Super Bowl food,” said Jim Flynn, Wingstop CEO. “Fans place orders weeks early, and we have a crew of 6,500 wing experts nationwide that start prepping for Super Bowl Sunday months in advance.”
To add to the energy level and excitement that the playoffs bring , Wing Zone, based in Atlanta, Georgia, is taking advantage of the increased traffic to introduce two new flavor rubs to their current line-up of 15 awarding winning options: Cool Ranch – The great taste of ranch without the need for dipping and Blackened Voodoo – The Holy Trinity of Cajun flavors combined with bayou heat.
Projected to sell almost one million wings at its 60 locations on Super Bowl Sunday, Wing Zone Field Marketing Manager Chris Pesti said, “With the increased sales volume this playoff season we plan to place an exclamation point on what has been a great year for the growth of Wing Zone.”
The vast majority of wings, especially those destined for foodservice, are disjointed, with the third joint (the thin part known as the flapper) being exported to Asian countries and the meatier first and second joints being sold domestically. The wing is usually split into two parts or portions, known as the “drumette” and the mid-section or “flat” and sold to food service or retail outlets.
A chicken has two wings, and chicken companies are not able to produce wings without the rest of the chicken. Therefore, the supply of wings is limited by the total number of chickens produced. When the demand for wings is stronger than the demand for other chicken parts, the price of wings will go up.
Wing prices always go up in the fourth quarter of the year as restaurants stock up for the Super Bowl and prices usually peak in January during the run-up to the big game.
In the Midwest, for instance which includes Indianapolis, home of Super Bowl XLVI, the price of wings (whole) for the week of January 16-20, 2012 was $1.96/lb wholesale, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Poultry Market News Service. This represents a 50 percent increase in price from six months ago in July, 2011.
“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.”
Although fans in Philadelphia saw the Eagles’ Super Bowl chances extinguish a month ago, a different kind of bowl will take place in the City of Brotherly Love on Friday, February 3, 2012– the annual competitive eating contest known as the “Wing Bowl.” Founded in 1993 by Philadelphia talk-radio hosts Angelo Cataldi and Al Morganti, the Wing Bowl is traditionally held on the Friday preceding the Super Bowl. The event, which began as a radio promotion, has grown to encompass television, the Internet and a contest for women who are termed “the Wingettes.”
20,000 people will pack into a sold out Wells Fargo Center at 6:00 a.m. for the 20th Wing Bowl, which will feature among others a rematch between 5-time Wing Bowl Champion Bill “El Wingador” Simmons and 3-time undefeated Wing Bowl reigning champion Jonathon “Super” Squibb. Squibb defeated El Wingador by one wing, 255 to 254, in 2011.
*UPDATE: Kobayashi wins Wing Bowl XX – downs 337 wings in 30 minutes, smashing record set by Squibb in 2011.
Where do Americans Get Their Wings?
According to NPD Group data for the year ending November, 2011, the top five restaurant categories to order chicken wings throughout the year (accounting for over 90 percent of all wing orders) are:
- Casual Dining Restaurants: 33 percent of all chicken wing restaurant orders
- Pizza places: 26 percent
- Chicken places: 16 percent
- Mid-priced full service restaurants: 9 percent
- Food stores: 8 percent
Originally on and off various fast-food menus, chicken wings have become a staple of casual dining. Virtually every casual dining chain offers chicken wings as an appetizer, if not an entrée.
Increasingly, ready-to-eat or heat-and-eat wings are showing up in the delicatessen and prepared-foods section of supermarkets, a growing trend. These are the same products that are sold to bars and restaurants.
The Rest of the Year – 2012
Although America’s taste for chicken wings is no hotter than during Super Bowl weekend, the National Chicken Council estimates that in 2012 more than 13.5 billion chicken wings (over 3 billion pounds) will be marketed as wings (as opposed to the wings on whole chicken or breast quarters). The actual number of wing portions sold is over 25 billion since the vast majority of wings are cut into two segments or portions.
Of these, about 9.5 billion wings (2.2 billion pounds) will be sold through foodservice channels. Another four billion wings (800 million pounds) will be sold in retail grocery stores – three billion as ready to cook (raw) or frozen and one billion ready to eat wings usually found in the deli section or the hot buffet in the store.
Consumers looking for great chicken wing recipes can find them on the National Chicken Council website at www.eatchicken.com.
History of the Chicken Wing
Deep-fried chicken wings have long been a staple of Southern cooking. But the concept of cooking wings in peppery hot sauce was born in 1964 at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, when co-owner Teressa Bellissimo cooked leftover wings in hot sauce as a late-night snack for her son and his friends. The boys liked them so much that the Bellissimos put them on the menu the next day. Served with celery slices and bleu cheese sauce, “Buffalo Wings” were an instant hit.
Dick Winger, who sold hot sauce to the bar, went on the road with Dominic Bellissimo, the owners’ son, to promote the item and sell hot sauce, and the item gradually caught on with restaurant operators around the country. The concept hit the big time in 1990, when McDonald’s began selling Mighty Wings at some of its restaurants. KFC rolled out Hot Wings a year later, and Domino’s Pizza introduced its own wings in 1994.
They’ve remained hot ever since.