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Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Josh Barnes enjoys a bucket of wings at Duty’s Buckets on West Jefferson Boulevard.

Football foods get hike

Restaurants face dilemma with chicken wing costs on the rise

The rising cost of chicken wings hasn’t forced Duty’s Buckets Sports Pub to increase its prices.

At Duty’s Buckets Sports Pub, there are few things that go better with watching football on the big screen than chicken wings. Except for maybe a beer.

On a typical Sunday, the West Jefferson Boulevard restaurant goes through about six to eight cases of chicken wings, said manager Adam Hallett.

And while that’s great business for the restaurant, the increasing cost of chicken wings isn’t.

“We haven’t changed our prices,” Hallett said, but the restaurant is feeling the hit.

Football fans, whether they’re tailgating or watching the game on the couch or at the sports bar, are finding their favorite foods are a little pricier this year.

Food items popular during the football season – corn chips and burgers, nachos and wings – are rising after the worst drought since 1956 damaged crops and increased the cost of feeding livestock. Tyson Foods and other poultry producers have cut output, boosting prices for buyers as the NFL begins its season.

Hallett said prices of wings have gone up $20 to $30 a case. This time last year, the restaurant was paying about $50 a case. This year, it has increased to about $70, and Hallett expects the price to rise higher.

Wholesale wings were at $1.86 a pound in August, up 92 percent from a year earlier. In March, the prices reached $1.90, the highest on record at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The latest USDA report released last week expects prices for wholesale broiler parts, which includes wings, to continue to move higher throughout 2012 and into 2013.

Americans eat about 25 billion wings annually, industry data show.

“You’re not going to see the 99-cent wing promotions like you used to,” said John Davie, president of Boston-based Dining Alliance, which represents about 10,000 U.S. restaurant companies. He predicted the price of wings will probably reach $2 a pound this year.

“People are still out and restaurants are still busy, but revenues still may go down because people are more conservative about how much they’re spending and how much they’re going out,” Davie said.

The price of wings at restaurants and supermarkets usually falls after the Super Bowl in February and the NCAA basketball tournament in March, said Tom Super, a spokesman for the National Chicken Council. That didn’t happen this year because producers cut output to limit losses from surging feed costs.

Lee Albright, who owns Albright’s Meats and Deli on South Calhoun Street with his wife, Karen, has an idea why wing prices are higher, and it reflects the decrease in output and feeding costs.

He said producers have to raise whole chickens for just two wings. In addition, almost all restaurants serve chicken wings.

“Now, if they could raise chickens with four wings …” Albright said.

Albright expects wing prices to eventually hit a “sensitive price” for consumers, just like it did with gas when it hit $4 a gallon. He said people will only pay so much.

And if people stop buying wings, that could be a problem for Albright, who sells between 2,000 to 5,000 pounds of chicken wings a week. It’s one of his biggest sellers.

Buffalo Wild Wings, a chicken-and-beer dining chain based in Minneapolis, which has three locations in Fort Wayne, said the cost of its wings in the quarter starting July 1 will be 68 percent higher than a year earlier. That compares with 3 percent for all other commodity costs.

The high cost of wings is making it hard to keep prices down, Hallett said, adding that consumers won’t see many special wing promotions. Locally, diners will see 55-cent wings or higher, Hallett said.

“The day of the 10-cent wings are over,” he said.

Bloomberg News contributed to this story.