Will There Be a Chicken Wing Shortage in 2014?
Last January, football fans and wing enthusiasts everywhere were brought to their knees by predictions of a chicken wing shortage directly ahead of the Super Bowl. Slate called it "The Great Chicken Wing Shortage of 2013." Although Time and US News pooh-poohed the crisis, Fox News fanned the flames of panic by demanding to know, "Who's to Blame for Nation's Chicken Wing Shortage?" Meanwhile, Stephen Colbert made fun of it and ESPN ran a surprisingly cogent analysis.
Was all of that hand-wringing worth it? Absolutely. Americans eat 1.23 billion wings on Super Bowl Sunday alone. Like wearing our lucky underwear, it's a sacred tradition that we go into Game Day getting our Buffalo on. With this year's Super Bowl on the horizon, Americans DEMAND to be kept abreast of the chicken wing situation. Which is why Bon Appétit is here to give you the State of the Wings for 2014.
First off, let's review whether last year's projected shortage actually came to pass. Most coverage of the shortage can be traced back to a position paper by the National Chicken Council, a trade group, which had projected a 1% decrease in chicken production due to the high price of feed corn, which had been driven up by the ethanol industry.
"Corn makes up more than two-thirds of chicken feed and corn prices hit an all-time high [due to] a federal government requirement that mandates 40 percent of our corn crop be turned into fuel in the form of ethanol," the paper stated. "Simply put, less corn equals higher feed costs, which means fewer birds produced." And fewer birds produced, a horrified nation realized, meant fewer wings available to be deep-fried, slathered in spicy sauce, and served with ranch dressing and celery sticks.
So was all of this just a game of chicken between Big Corn and Big Poultry? Not really. Chicken-wing prices did spike last year. Perhaps this was partially due to diminished supplies as the NCC contends, but there was also another culprit: McDonald's.
Apparently, McDonald's was quietly stockpiling chicken wings in anticipation of the relaunch of the Mighty Wing. Over the course of 18 months, Mickey D's built up a modest supply of, oh, 50 MILLION POUNDS of wings. This market-shifting bet, combined with the dip in supply, was enough to send wing prices soaring up 26% from the previous year. (Hamburglar? More like Buffaloburglar!)
So, what about this year? This isn't the first time we've been caught up in a wing panic. According to an August 2013 report from CNN Money, "There were wing shortage scares in 2009, 2010 and 2013." Are wing shortages now the new normal? Should we start adding a side bet on wing prices to our Fantasy Football pool?
No, not yet. The National Chicken Council isn't releasing its 2014 Wing Report until two weeks before the Super Bowl, but we've got an exclusive juicy tidbit: According to NCC spokesman Tom Super, "At the moment, wholesale whole wing prices are down by about $0.70, and supplies are up, so we are anticipating a bump up in consumption this year." The USDA's (scintillating!) Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook confirms that poultry production is up 4% for the year.
That takes cares of the bird supply, but what of the pricing? What if McDonald's keeps driving up prices by hoarding wings like some kind of poultry-crazed Scrooge McDuck? Well, that's not going to happen either, because the Mighty Wing was a huge flop and now McDonald's is sitting on an inventory of 10 MILLION POUNDS of wings.
Which means that the Chicken Wing Shortage of 2013 is officially over, and the Shortage of 2014 will not come to pass. Phew.
Now we can clear out that walk-in freezer full of chicken wings to make room for our enormous stockpile of Frank's Red Hot.
If all this talk of chicken wings is making you hungry, be sure to check out our chicken wings recipes.
By Mike Lew // Image Credit: Bon Appetit