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Americans Set to Devour 1.3B Chicken Wings Over Super Bowl Weekend

Image: Super Bowl chicken wings sale

Buffalo-style Chicken Wings. LARRY CROWE / AP, file

Beyond the end zone this Super Bowl 50, food franchise businesses will also be gearing up for big competition this game day weekend.

While NFL players are waiting to see their hard work and prep payoff, Wing Zone franchise co-owner Matthew Licht on Long Island, New York, will attempt to break his own record for chicken wing sales.

Licht has two franchise locations on Long Island, and last year sold just under 50,000 chicken wings on Super Bowl Sunday alone. This year, he's hoping to top that number. His two stores were also ranked the best Wing Zone sellers on Super Bowl Sunday last year.

"The goal for this year is to get our hourly volume above $4,000, which we missed by, like, $50 last year," Licht said. "During one hour we did, like, $3,900," he said.

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Beyond sales on game day, workers at both locations had racked up just under $16,000 in pre-orders for the weekend — and counting. Licht has 4,000 pounds of wings in the cooler.

Super Bowl Sunday should be big business for fast casual businesses like Wing Zone, and restaurant chains like Buffalo Wild Wings, across the country.

Americans are set to eat 1.3 billion chicken wings this weekend, leading up to and during Super Bowl 50, according to the National Chicken Council. That's up 3 percent or more than 37 million wings from last year's game. An estimated 75 percent of wings eaten will come from food service outlets.

"That 'fast casual' area that cuts in between quick service and full service is doing well in terms of establishment and employment growth," says Matthew Haller, spokesman for the International Franchise Association, the industry's largest trade group. "Around the Super Bowl, we are going to see a lot of foot traffic in these stores and a lot of online orders into these locations."

The average wholesale price of wings is at $1.78 a pound, down from $2 per pound the same time last year, according to the Daily Northeast Broiler/Fryer Report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agriculture Marketing Service.

The changing market prices can make things difficult to plan, Licht says. "The challenge is keeping a constant menu price for the customer, while our price changes," he says, adding they currently pay about $1.90 for a 40-pound case of wings. "A couple of years ago, the wing market skyrocketed, and we were paying almost $90 for a case of wings. If we were to adjust our menu prices to reflect that, we probably wouldn't have had a lot of people coming in to buy."

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For Licht, keeping up with demand was also a challenge early on. The company's first year in business in 2005, they were unprepared for the onslaught of orders, and found customers waiting in line at 9 a.m. on game day.

"It was the closest thing to an epic failure you can think of," he says. The business took out an apology ad in the local newspaper to explain to customers why things went wrong, and have seen sales jump each year since.

This year, it's all hands on deck at Wing Zone come Super Bowl weekend. Everyone from Licht's father, Steve Licht, to his 8-months-pregnant wife, Marissa, will be working. As for catching the game? "We try to make it home for the fourth quarter," he says.

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