Chicken wing shortage: Why restaurants are running out

This Dec. 15, 2014 photo shows Korean style chicken wings in Concord, N.H. These wings are made with gochujang, which in Korean cooking is used as a base for stews and marinades, as well as a feisty condiment for one-pot dishes such as bibimbap. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

Buffalo wings are as American as a cold beer when watching football, but suddenly these delicacies — usually served with celery and ranch or blue cheese dressing — are in short supply.

Many restaurants that sell wings are now struggling with higher prices and short supplies.

Restaurant owner Jason Esterkamp said the same labor shortage affecting restaurants like his is also hitting chicken processing plants.

“The chicken producers are having problems opening up their production lines,” he said. “So just like the rest of us are having trouble finding employees, this is where it’s really coming from. They don’t have the workforce to open all their lines. … All I can tell you is that wings are hard to come by, and they are extremely expensive.”

Esterkamp’s problem is starting to take a toll on his bottom line.

Why Wings, Why Now?

You may be wondering, why is there a shortage of chicken wings, but not chicken breasts?

That’s because of how many wings are needed.

Restaurants may sell a couple of hundred chicken breasts per week, but in that same week, they’ll sell well over a thousand chicken wings, if not several thousand.

“We haven’t had any issue with chicken breasts,” Esterkamp said.

That’s good news for grocery shoppers.

But Restaurant Business, a trade publication, warns that “a massive wing shortage is brewing.”

Some restaurants are now limiting take-out orders. The Bojangles southern chicken chain recently tweeted that their wings were temporarily out but “will be back soon.”

Esterkamp is hoping it won’t come to that.

“To date, we have yet to run out of chicken wings,” he said. “Our biggest issue is the cost of chicken wings.”

Esterkamp says he won’t switch to cheaper, smaller warehouse club wings, but he may have to raise prices if the shortage continues.

As always, don’t waste your money.

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John Matarese

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