This probably isn’t the news you want to hear heading into Super Bowl weekend, but fast-food chains across the country are facing low supplies of chicken wings. And experts say we may be on the cusp of a major nationwide wing shortage.
According to Restaurant Business, the demand for the beloved item is so high that fast-food chains and chicken distributors are struggling to keep up. In fact, according to a supply chain analyst cited by the publication, America’s cold storage stock of chicken wings is at its lowest point since 2011. (Related: McDonald’s Is Making These 8 Major Upgrades.)
The reason lies in an all-time high popularity of chicken wings boosted by the pandemic. They’re a highly craveable comfort-food classic that also travels well for takeout and delivery, which is why Americans have been ordering more fast-food chicken wings during the pandemic than ever.
Recognizing consumers’ growing appetite for the classic chicken item, several digital brands—like Wingstop, It’s Just Wings, and Neighborhood Wings—have made chicken wings central to their concept, while others, like Domino’s, expanded their existing wings offering.
Naturally, the prices of wings are growing for restaurants, and while some expect the trickle-down effect of more expensive wings to affect restaurant profits rather than customers, there is no guarantee that we won’t see higher prices on the menus as well.
Gregg Nettleton, president and COO of the casual dining division for Fat Brands, told Restaurant Business the short-term price increase should not affect consumers. “When product costs surge for a short period of time, that always affects margins given we utilize printed menus in our casual-dining locations.” Eat This, Not That! has reached out to Wingstop and Applebee’s for comment on changing prices, but has not yet received a response.
So could the potential shortage of chicken wings usher in a new era in fast-food chicken? Some chains believe so, and have already pivoted to testing other chicken options on their menus. For example, Wingstop announced in November they would be testing bone-in chicken thighs as part of their “whole bird strategy.”
“Our research suggests it will be a fan favorite, and we’re excited for all Wingstop fans to get to try it soon,” CEO Charlie Morrison said at the time.
For more on the menu offerings from new digital fast-food brands, check out 7 New Fast-Food Chains You Can Only Find Online. And don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter to get the latest restaurant news delivered straight to your inbox.