Image: Drew Cerza
Don Heupel  /  AP
"It's America's number one appetizer," says Drew Cerza, founder of Buffalo's annual chicken wing festival.
updated 1/29/2009 7:21:56 PM ET 2009-01-30T00:21:56

Buffalo's football team won't have a place in this year's Super Bowl hoopla, but don't worry, its chicken wings will.

Amid unnerving media reports that spread from here to New York City and even Seattle about a potential shortage of the Buffalo-born appetizer heading into the big game, authorities say yes, production is down and yes, prices are up.

"But there's plenty of wings," assured Richard Lobb, spokesman for the National Chicken Council in Washington.

For those scoring at home, that'll mean about 1 billion wings scarfed down over the Super Bowl weekend.

In the last week or so, some fretted that the spicy snack would be scarce for a number of reasons: the highest wholesale and retail prices in recent memory; an industrywide, economy-driven drop in production of 5 to 6 percent; a bankruptcy protection filing from the nation's largest chicken producer, Pittsburg, Texas-based Pilgrim's Pride, though it remains in business; and a push to sell wings by restaurant chains like Pizza Hut and KFC. Taken together, connoisseurs worried that demand would outstrip supply.

And chicken wings were indeed missing for a day from the kitchen of one Niagara Falls restaurateur, but that was by design. Owner Sam Musolino refused to serve wings at Sammy's Pizzeria Monday to protest the annual price increases that arrive every year just in time for the big football weekend.

"They're basically just taking advantage of the pizzerias," said Musolino, who said he was paying $46 per 40-pound box of wings before the price jumped to $78 for the same case.

Lobb said the price is up because feed prices have gone through the roof and chicken producers have had to cut production as consumers have cut spending at casual dining restaurants that favor chicken dishes.

There has also been an oversupply of meat on the market, due to slumping demand, which had been hurting pricing — further crimping margins. It all boiled down to production cuts.

Now that supply is smaller and prices are up, Musolino said he can't pass along the temporary spike to customers — not that they'd pay anyway. "Everyone's so tapped out these days, there's no way you can raise the prices."

It's no trivial thing in this city that gave the world Buffalo wings. Anchor Bar owner Teressa Bellissimo first deep fried the wings and dunked them in hot sauce on a Friday night in 1964 when her son Dominic's hungry friends dropped in while he was tending bar. Until then, the wings were usually used for the stock pot.

Wholesale prices for fresh wings are up to $1.51 a pound this week, compared to $1.24 last year. But as of Jan. 1, the poultry industry had 38.3 million pounds of chicken wings on hand, down slightly from about 40 million pounds a year earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"It's America's number one appetizer," said Drew Cerza, founder of Buffalo's annual chicken wing festival, who, incidentally, won't be frying up any wings on Sunday.

"It's my day off," he said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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