October 9, 2007 / 11:40 AM / 10 years ago

Sports fans kick chicken wings sales to record

CHICAGO (Reuters Life!) - While baseball fans have hot dogs and tennis fans at Wimbledon enjoy strawberries, football fans have claimed chicken wings as their snack, with the demand lifting prices and fueling record sales this year.

Whether barbecued, honey-glazed, or spicy, wings have become the rage of gridiron aficionados at the stadium, in bars or in front of the TV at home, with the demand so strong that it provides a seasonal boost to sales -- and an annual boost for poultry farmers.

Sales peak near the NFL’s Super Bowl Sunday in February every year when more wings are sold than at any other time of the year.

“Super Bowl wing sales are crazy,” said Scott Hogan, manager of the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in the Chicago suburb of Woodridge, Illinois.

“I would say that 95 percent of the food that goes out the front door on Super Bowl Sunday is wings.”

This seasonal demand has been great news for the chicken industry. Years ago chicken wings were largely a lower-priced item but now in wholesale markets they are selling at about $1.30 a pound, which is close to price for breast portions.

“The difference has been dramatic,” said Richard Lobb, spokesman for the National Chicken Council.

The National Chicken Council, a industry trade group, estimates a record amount of more than 11 billion wings will be sold this year, mostly via restaurants and other food service channels.

Len Steiner, a consultant for the food industry and a principle with Steiner Consulting, has charted wholesale wing prices for years and the trend distinctly shows that each year prices rise during football season.

Bill Roenigk, senior vice president of the National Chicken Council, said wings may be popular because their spicy coatings fit well with beer drinking that goes along with football.

“They are successfully positioned as a party food and are spicy. That goes well with the normal liquid refreshment that is part of the weekend,” said Roenigk.

The Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, claims it originated the practice of cooking wings in a spicy sauce back and was first to call them “Buffalo Wings.”

In 1964 the bar’s co-owner, Teressa Bellissimo, cooked leftover wings in a sauce as a late-night snack for her son and his friends. The wings were a hit and went on the menu.

“In my opinion there is nothing better than some friends watching a game in a bar and eating wings. It is the right combination beer, wings, and football,” said Ivano Toscani, Anchor Bar’s current manager.

“Everybody else out there copies us.”

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