Some people tune in for the game, others tune in for the commercials, but it's hard to imagine a proper party this Sunday without the Steelers and Cardinals on the TV and a platter of hot wings on the table.

According to the National Chicken Council, Super Bowl Sunday actually accounts for less than 5 percent of annual demand. About 24 billion wing segments will be marketed this year, and foodservice channels account for about 8.5 billion of those wings.

Several chicken processors make wings in a variety of flavors and styles for sale to foodservice outlets. They are usually shipped fully cooked and frozen and are prepared for the customer in a fryer, the NCC notes. The Council notes that prices for wings are higher than a year ago. The U.S. Department of Agriculture cites an average retail price of $1.93 per pound for ready-to-cook chicken wings featured in grocery circulars, up from $1.52 a year ago. While prices to tend to elevate prior to the big game, industry cutbacks in production and economic troubles may also be contributing to the price increase.

The Indianapolis Star noted that more restaurant chains like Pizza Hut and KFC are promoting wings, which drives up demand. Furthermore, the newspaper also pointed to the bankruptcy of Pilgrim's Pride as a contributing factor to a decrease in supply, though the company is still in business.

With the changes in supply, small restaurant operators are feeling the pinch. Sam Musolino, owner of Sammy's Pizzaria, told the Star that his cost for a 40-pound box of wings has jumped from $46 to $78 within the last year. “They're basically taking advantage of the pizzerias,” he said, noting that he can't pass on the price increase to customers, who are also hurting from the down economy.

Planning ahead

Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest day of the year for Minneapolis-based Buffalo Wild Wings, which has more than 500 stores in the country. The company sold more than four million wings during last year's game.

Our restaurants have been preparing for Game Day for weeks, and our guests are equally excited,” said Sally Smith, president and CEO of the company, in an exclusive interview with “We've been taking orders for our wings since the beginning of January, set up VIP parties and promotions such as “Best Seat In The House.”

Smith says that Buffalo Wild Wings has not seen any shortages and has not had to increase its prices as a result. “We are very fortunate to work with a strong network of suppliers and have an extremely hard-working purchasing department who ensures that we have the necessary supply,” she said. Menu increases, when they happen, are strategically planned well in advance, she added.

The National Chicken Council says that chicken wings have become a staple on the menu of casual dining establishments, and that there are at least two dozen national or regional restaurant chains specializing in wings. Despite the heavy competition, Buffalo Wild Wings is estimating that it will grow its unit base by 15 percent this year, through both corporate and franchise expansion. “We are committed to ensuring that our guests enjoy the experience they've come to expect from Buffalo Wild Wings every time they visit,” said Smith. “We're looking forward to a successful 2009.”