Restaurants deal with nationwide chicken wing shortage


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — A chicken wing shortage continues, and experts say it was brought on by the pandemic. First toilet paper, and now chicken wings? The nationwide shortage hurt restaurants all over, but especially in Buffalo.

Many restaurants have increased their take-out distribution since pandemic restrictions forced them to find alternative solutions. That’s why the National Chicken Council says wings are in hot demand—because they are great takeout items. With more people ordering them, sales are up across the nation by around 7%.

The manager for the Sheridan Drive Duffs says they’ve been busy with takeout, but it’s not unusual for them. Before the pandemic, about 40% of their business was done through carry-out. Now, it’s about 60%.

While Duffs has adapted to the change, management has noticed over the past few weeks, getting their essential items is becoming harder. “Say we order 50 cases of wings to get us through the weekend. We might only get 30 of them delivered. So we’re getting about two-thirds of what we typically order. There are some days our food reps will call us and say we might not be able to get you anything,” manager Jeff Feather.

Duffs buys their chicken wings in cases that are around 40 pounds. Right now, they cost more than $3 a pound. Along with chicken wings, the manager says the prices of produce and other restaurant essentials have also skyrocketed by almost 200%.

In Virginia, business owner Moe Stevenson says the cost of wings has been high. He’s paying three times more for drumsticks than last year—an additional $1,200 per week. “It’s outrageous, he says. “I thought it would drop off after the Super Bowl, like it usually does, March Madness, it’s done. No, its gone up.”

Stevenson has had to raise his wing prices because of rising costs.

Restaurant owners in Illinois said they haven’t been able to serve chicken wings in their restaurants as usual because they’ve been dealing with a chicken wing shortage from their suppliers.

Connie Richardson said in her 30 years of business, she’s never seen this. “We had started stocking up about a month ago a little here and there. And we’ll just deal with it. If we run out of boneless, we have the option to do bone-in,” she said.

Nuby’s Steakhouse has a deal on chicken wings on Thursday nights. They had to ration their chicken wings this Thursday and were out of bone-in chicken wings by 5:15 p.m. “We’ve just been telling people that if they call, they will be rationed and we’ll ask that they switch over to boneless for tonight,” Richardson said.

Stee Heimsath, who owns of E. L. Flanagan’s, said they canceled their weekly chicken wing deal, which is usually on Wednesdays. “It’s a predicament. We had to cancel our wing Wednesday promotion because we weren’t certain we would have the wings,” Heimsath said. “Some of the vendors are rationing who they’ll give wings to.”

Heimsath said he paid about $60 for a box of chicken wings in the fall of 2020, but now he’s paying more than double, about $135 for the same box of wings. Richardson said her supplier’s price has increased about 33%. “Prices always go up around Super Bowl time, but they never came down this year,” she said.

While wings have been a popular pandemic takeout food, but that isn’t the only reason restaurants are in this fowl predicament. “The labor in the packing plants, they’re having trouble getting workers,” Heimsath said. “Some of it had to do with the uncertainty of last year that they had to cut back on production because they didn’t know what was going to happen with the restaurants being closed.”

Tom Super, of the National Chicken Council, stopped short of calling the decreased chicken supply a shortage. “Wing supplies are tight, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say there is a ‘shortage,’” Super said.“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,” he continued. “It will take time and effort to eventually replace the impacted hatchery supply flocks in that region.”

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