For many, they were a comfort food during a pandemic, as well as some of the first meals eaten with friends when pubs and restaurants opened this summer.
While chicken wings may look deliciously simple on a plate, serving them has recently become a more complex and expensive proposition.
In the wake of rising prices for poultry, chicken feed and canola oil – not to mention the vagaries of international shipping – restaurants are saying the distribution of this pub favorite is getting more expensive.
As restaurants have reopened, a tight market has developed for the wings, and some businesses have gone to great lengths to make sure they can get all the supplies they need.
However, Canadian chicken production is increasing, which the industry believes will improve wing availability.
“I’ve been predicting or expecting wing prices to be going down for about… six to twelve months, and they’re still going up,” said Kevin Grier, Livestock Market Analyst. “They defied gravity.”
Wing prices are rising
Chicken wings, of course, aren’t the only ones to face inflationary pressures these days. But they illustrate some of the challenges the pandemic has created for the food industry and supply chains.
“Can you imagine what a winged Tuesday night without wings will be like?” Said Rob Dobrowolski, owner of Bonzzini’s Brew Pub in Regina.
It’s a fun question for a restaurant that has had wings recently, but it’s something Dobrowolski has thought about.
“One of our suppliers has already said that he will not have wings until December,” said Dobrowolski, who buys imported wings.
“At the moment, the fenders are still available, but the price has definitely increased.“
Dobrowolski said the price of his last order has risen by 20% and he believes it could go up further.
Prices vary, however, depending on the agreements that chains or restaurants have with their suppliers. Smaller restaurants may face greater price volatility.
Steven Erlich of Toronto-based Duff’s Famous Wings said their wing orders have been largely met, although prices have skyrocketed. He said his suppliers faced challenges last month, but stocks appear to have become “a bit more stable” recently.
Katie McKenzie, president of Wings Restaurants & Pubs in British Columbia, said that over the past six to eight months, they have seen an increase of about 30 percent in raw material costs. She pointed out that the rising cost of chicken feed was one of the main factors explaining why she was paying more.
Industry figures provided to CBC News show wholesale wing prices are up about 14% per kilogram in mid-August from the same month a year ago and 35% from August 2019.
This is happening during what some call a tight fenders market – a market driven by high demand but which has also been influenced by external and even international factors.
Pandemic production change
At the start of last year’s pandemic, public health restrictions resulted in the closure of many restaurants and the Canadian food industry had to adapt.
Consumer purchases in grocery stores increased, including purchases of chicken. But that was not enough to fill the void left by catering, such as restaurants. In Canada, about 40 percent of chicken production is for the food service industry, according to Chicken Farmers of Canada (PPC).
NPD Canada, which follows trends in the restaurant industry, said restaurant sales of chicken wings have fallen by about five percent in the past 18 months, although their popularity as a take-out has helped increase their share of the overall food basket. over this same period.
Chicken production has been reduced by around 10-12% for the spring-summer 2020 period, said Lisa Bishop-Spencer of CFC. Now, as restaurants have reopened and demand has increased further, chicken production has also increased.
(The Canadian chicken industry uses a supply management system where farmers, processors and catering members meet every eight weeks to decide how much chicken to produce, based on market demand.)
During the rest of the year, chicken production will be higher than it was in 2019 and 2020, industry officials told CBC News.
“This is good news for those who find market conditions a bit tight right now, or prices a bit high,” said Jean-Michel Laurin of the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council.
“But one thing that’s not going to change is that chickens only have two wings.”
In other words, the industry cannot produce excess chicken just to meet the domestic demand for wings. To satisfy this particular appetite, Canada also imports wings.
But it had its obstacles this year too.
The connection between the United States and Brazil
The United States and Brazil, world’s leading exporter of frozen poultry, have also experienced problems in recent months which have affected wing availability.
A surprisingly harsh winter storm that hit Texas and neighboring states had an impact on chicken flocks. At the same time, the American appetite for pub delicacy was sky-high.
A longtime market observer, Grier said US demand for wings was “off the charts.”
“We couldn’t get a hold of them because they kept them there and the prices are high,” Grier said. He also pointed out that Brazil has had logistical problems, which observers link in part to an international shortage of shipping containers.
More broadly, some have raised this summer the specter of a global shortage chicken wings, although industry officials and analysts say Canada has not experienced a shortage.
Customers are back … but costs are rising
Charlene Pellerin, owner of Calgary Mug Shotz Sport Bar & Grill, said navigating the ups and downs of the pandemic was “very difficult,” but people were once again lining up outside her doorstep. restaurant this summer.
The bar, known for its long list of homemade sauces, sells over 1,100 kilograms of wings per week and has had no problem obtaining them from a local processor. This is the good news.
They also pay more for things like plastic gloves, food, and frying oil, the cost of which she says has nearly doubled. The combination of these factors saw the restaurant raise prices.
During this time, hire more employees was not easy.
“My husband and I have had to come back as staff to make things work, and we continue to get busier and busier,” Pellerin said.
Still, she’s happy to see customers coming back.
“It’s been a huge roller coaster during this pandemic, but we’ve seen the other side of it,” Pellerin said. “The demand for wings – it’s back to what it used to be.”