Chicken Wing Prices Have Doubled. Here’s Why.

Labor shortages, increased demand and a host of other issues are driving prices up

The wings at Duff's Famous Wings remain a classic on the Buffalo Wing Trail, photographed in Amherst, New York on December 2, 2018
Chicken wings at Duff's in Buffalo, NY.
Libby March for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Let’s get the shock out of the way early: the cost of your chicken wings is going to increase, and by quite a lot. And it’s not the only food item that may see some (hopefully temporary) price hikes.

Greg Duell, the co-owner of New York’s Duff’s Famous Wings, told Fox Business that wing prices have increased by around 99% recently. He attributed that increase to a labor shortage at chicken farms, which is happening just as restaurants are reopening at full capacity in the U.S. as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. The cost of fryer oil is also apparently up 120%.

“The chicken wing farms in America, they’re having trouble retaining and recruiting employees,” said Duell, who was part of a group that sued New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in December over indoor dining restrictions. “When that happens, they can’t process the birds fast enough, they have to feed them more, the feed costs have gone up, the birds are getting bigger and they can’t process and get them out.” 

As well, soaring demand means poultry producers can’t produce the wings fast enough. And Texas storms in the spring also hurt the supply chain.

Duell blames unemployment checks and the additional $300 supplemental income that was attached to those benefits as part of a COVID-19 relief package.

“Now, this year, not only are we competing against the restaurant down the street, but we’re competing against the government that’s paying money to stay out of work and we just need people back in the workforce to keep this country moving forward,” he told Fox Business. (Note: Duell has raised wages to keep on his own staff.)

Labor shortages are certainly an issue; we can’t speak to chicken farms, but almost half of U.S. restaurant owners say they’re struggling to pay their rent since the labor shortage has reduced their revenues and shortened hours, according to the small business network Alignable (and reported by Insider). That said, not every chef or business agrees that the unemployment benefits are the sole cause of the lack of workers — worker safety, poor treatment during COVID and a realization that the hospitality industry may need to treat its staff better are competing reasons, and those reasons could certainly be true outside of the restaurant industry.


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