The Real Reason No One Is Buying Chicken Wings Right Now

We're running out of a lot of things, thanks to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, like toilet paper, canned goods, bread, and pasta. But the one grocery item we're likely to find in large quantities? Chicken wings.

We may not realize it, but we tend to eat more of certain kinds of foods at certain times of the year, and we enjoy chicken wings the most during big sporting events like the Super Bowl and March Madness. But with all sporting events — including March Madness — off the calendar, suppliers across the country are now saddled with stocks of chicken wings that would have typically gone to sports bars and restaurants. "The Super Bowl is the largest single sporting event for wing consumption. But March Madness is stretched over 2-3 weeks, so wing consumption would be more over that time," National Chicken Council spokesman Tom Super told Vice.

America consumes millions of chicken wings during March Madness

In 2017, American Family Care says the nation's sports fans consumed about 120 million chicken wings (along with 220 million gallons of beer!) during March Madness. To meet that demand, suppliers and restaurants had to begin building their chicken wing stockpiles in the weeks before the NCAA Championships, which this year, was supposed to run from March 15 to April 6 (via Athlon Sports). The college basketball playoffs are so popular that they actually translate into real sales and marketing opportunities for restaurants around the country. Restaurant Business says that in 2019, the tournament was expected to deliver a sales boost of 2.9 percent to independent and chain restaurants around the country. If a restaurant is located in the hometown of a potential winner, that translates into another boost of 9.4 percent. But that earnings percentage goes up and down, because fans normally stay home if their team is playing, but will go somewhere else if it isn't. That earning percentage can even go up if a team makes the Sweet 16.

Chicken wing demand vanished after March Madness was cancelled

But when the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic wiped the sporting calendar clean, the industry found themselves with plenty of wings, and no earnings, because Super says about 70 percent of wing stocks are consumed in restaurants, while 30 percent are eaten at home.

"The wing business is totally in the gutter. The only way we're selling wings is for curbside to-go. We have one pizza place in town that does carry-out and ordered some wings. But that's been it. We probably lost 30 or 40 sports bars," Chicago-based meat supplier Stan Neva told UPI.

It would seem that because so many people are stocking up on meat at the moment, chicken wing suppliers wouldn't have a hard time selling their stocks, but the problem is that not all suppliers are equipped to repackage their wares for retail markets. Because of this overload, chicken wings could turn into the best food bargain in town, with wholesale prices already having dropped 35 cents to just $1.25 a pound. But if you don't want to cook them yourself, you may want to help your favorite sports bar (if they're open) by ordering takeout — they've likely got plenty of backstock, too.