By Chadwick Dolgos
While many COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease, one thing that has not returned back to normal is leaving chicken wing enthusiasts hungry and confused.
A tightening in the chicken supply has forced many restaurants in the local area to raise menu prices, while chicken wings continue to be a craved fan favorite.
Angelia’s Italian Grille in Kennedy added boneless wings to their Tuesday wing nights for $11.99 and raised the price for their all-you-can-eat traditional wings to $19.99.
Wing sales nationwide increased by more than 7% from 2019 to 2020, according to marketing reports from NPD Group/Crest.
Bars and restaurants began facing difficulty maintaining their poultry stock back in February of this year for a number of reasons. According to Tyson Foods, Inc., the world’s second-largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef, and pork, the shortage is a combination of increased demand over the past year, the winter storms that passed through Texas, and problems with production.
The supply of chicken wings was further tightened when production was disrupted in Texas by Winter Storm Uri back in February 2021, causing the price per pound to further skyrocket. Texas is among the top 10 chicken-producing states in the U.S.
“We’ve had to increase our wing prices, but they are a staple at our restaurant and we haven’t seen a fall off in demand,” said Matthew Greiner, owner of the Circle Inn.
“We did see an increase in wing sales during the pandemic,” said Greiner. “The Crafton community supported us while we were closed for dine-in services by placing consistent takeout orders.”
Greiner explained that obtaining enough wings to satisfy hungry customers at his Crafton business has been a challenge.
“There are some days that our supplier is completely out of wings, so it has been a challenge to maintain consistent inventory,” said Greiner.
Sam Mure, owner of Angelia’s, said he had to nearly double his menu price for wings.
“Wings are up 100%,” said Mure. “They have been hard to get.”
Mure added the chicken wing shortage isn’t the only factor in increased prices.
“The fryer oil has tripled,” he said. “We change the fryer grease twice a week, and the price went from $170 a week to almost $600 a week.”
Other restaurants also reported facing major difficulties obtaining other food-industry products
“We’ve had issues ordering cheese, paper products and styrofoam containers,” said Chuck Landa, co-owner of Doughboy’s Pizza in McKees Rocks. “This has definitely been one of our more interesting years running this place.”
“There was a similar issue with tomatoes about 10 years ago,” said Landa, who explained that tomatoes were then nearly $50 per case as a result of severe weather.
“Fast food restaurants like McDonald’s even quit putting tomatoes on their burgers for a while that year.”
While overconsumption and winter storms may help explain the current chicken shortage, Landa believes inadequate production related to lack of employees is the major issue.
“People aren’t back to work for whatever reason,” said Landa.
The National Chicken Council does not recognize the current situation as a shortage, but reported a four percent decrease in chickens being raised for meat and a three percent decrease in pounds of chicken produced.
While many in the chicken wing business hope that the current situation is just a phase, not everyone is hopeful there’s light at the end of the table.
“I’m hoping it’s a phase,” Landa said. “I definitely don’t think prices will go back to pre-COVID, even when production does get back to 100%.”