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Chicken wings, with a side of celery sticks and ranch or bleu cheese dipping sauce, are a crowd favorite during the Super Bowl. Kellen Moore | Watauga Democrat

Originally published: 2013-02-04 10:50:32
Last modified: 2013-02-04 10:52:35

Something to squawk about

Few things are certain about Sunday night's matchup, but viewers can expect Super Bowl XLVII to include at least three things: A winner, a loser and an estimated 1.23 billion chicken wings.

The quintessential football food returns to platters again this year, but drought and demand are making it difficult for local stores and restaurants to make any profit off the gooey grub.

So while customers are gnawing the bones, Boone restaurants say they’re eating the costs.

“My supplier of wings says he’s going to have plenty for this weekend, but they’re going to be way too high-priced,” said Stephen Larson, owner of Murphy’s on King Street. “They’ve more than doubled in the last year, year and a half.”

The National Chicken Council, which estimates wing consumption each year, offered a few explanations in a news release in late January.

“Chicken companies produced about one percent fewer birds last year, due in large part to record high corn and feed prices,” said chief economist Bill Roenigk. “Corn makes up more than two-thirds of chicken feed and corn prices hit an all-time high in 2012, due to two reasons:  last summer’s drought and pressure from a federal government requirement that mandates 40 percent of our corn crop be turned into fuel in the form of ethanol.

“Simply put, less corn equals higher feed costs, which means fewer birds produced.”

Local restaurateurs have witnessed the change since last year.

Kevin Pearce, general manager of The TApp Room, said that when the restaurant opened in September 2011, chicken wings cost them $55 for 40 pounds.

Right before the 2012 Super Bowl, they increased to about $80, he said.

“The chicken wings didn’t really go down after the Super Bowl last year,” Pearce said. “They pretty much stayed at that price.”

Just last week, Pearce said he paid about $93 for the same 40-pound package. In fact, many Boone restaurants are now paying more for wings than any other chicken product, even the breast.

Pearce said he doesn’t entirely understand the fascination.

“They’re not loaded with meat. They’re kind of nasty to eat, and you kind of look like a barbarian,” Pearce said. “But they’re good, and it’s all about the sauce, really.”

Despite many less-messy options on the menus, the finger food’s popularity remains high among sports fans, agreed Chris Spillman, owner of The Town Tavern.

The tavern sees an incredible demand for to-go wings during Super Bowl celebrations, he said.

“On an average Sunday, we might sell 50 to go,” he said. “This Sunday we’ll sell over 1,000, so that would be 20-fold.”

But for the last six to nine months, the restaurant has barely been breaking even on its 35-cent wing night on Mondays, he said.

Although the tavern is making less money off wings, Spillman said he still finds value in offering the discount night to get customers in the door — and opening their wallets for drinks and other items. Plus, it’s tradition.

“We’ve considered going up on Monday, but we’ve never done it,” he said. “I’d hate to do it. It’s like the Holy Grail.”

At The Rock Sports Bar & Grill, general manager Dave Buchanan said he also has had to face low profit margins on the restaurant’s nine wing options but hasn’t yet changed menu prices.

“We’re just absorbing it,” Buchanan said. “We were doing a 45-cent wing after nine o’clock, and last week we didn’t do that.”

The Rock typically goes through about 15 cases of wings per week, but Buchanan said he expects to sell at least 10 cases on Sunday alone.

They may not be making much profit, but at least restaurants can say they have the wings in stock.

At Harris Teeter in Boone, manager Chris Sronce said the store’s supplies of frozen chicken wings have been out of stock for a couple of weeks — and he doesn’t know when they can expect to get more in.

The store still offers fresh, deli-made wings in two-pound containers, he said, and sells plenty of other party foods.

“This is one of the biggest weeks of the whole year for frozen pizza sales,” Sronce said. “We’ve got plenty of that.”

But for some viewers, it’s just not a Super Bowl until fingers and faces are covered in wing sauce.

Becky Richardson, deli/bakery manager of Food Lion in Blowing Rock, said her store will offer precooked wings in 10-, 20- and 30-count packs throughout the weekend. She hopes it will be enough to conquer Super Bowl-sized appetites.

“It is a big weekend, so hopefully we have all we need to get us through,” she said.

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