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Just in time for football season, the Lion’s Head Tavern in New York City stopped selling 25-cent chicken wings on Monday nights. In Tucson, a sports bar called O’Malleys on Fourth scrapped its fall special of a dozen wings on Monday nights for $4.
And in restaurants from Sarasota to Seattle, an improbable poultry part is showing up on menus: a little chunk of chicken breast that is fried and sauced and sold, with marketer’s brio, as a “boneless wing.” All this is happening because wholesale chicken prices have turned upside down. The once-lowly wing is selling at a premium over what has long been the gold standard of poultry parts, the skinless boneless chicken breast.
In seven of the last 11 months, wholesale wing prices have been higher than breast prices, a reversal in a market where breasts usually reign supreme. In September, the average wholesale price for whole chicken wings in the Northeast was $1.48 a pound, according to the Agriculture Department. Yet skinless boneless breasts were $1.21 a pound.
Restaurants, normally big buyers of breast meat, slashed orders as millions of people cut back on eating out, and breast prices slumped. But demand for wings has remained strong, partly because people perceived them as a cheap luxury.
“A wing is a wing, and a wing has a bone,” said Anita Freedlander, the owner of Rusty’s Family Restaurant and Sports Grille in Tucson, which specializes in wings and does not sell the boneless variety.
Adam J. Scott, a founder of Wing Zone, an Atlanta-based chain with 80 restaurants in 20 states, said the days of cheap wings might be gone forever. That is, unless something changes on the supply side. “If they can figure out how to grow chickens with four wings,” Mr. Scott said, “we’d be in really great shape.”