(Bloomberg) -- No, pigs don’t have wings, but that’s not stopping restaurants from selling them.
Although chicken wings have long been a game-day staple, non-wing wings are poised to become the surprise star at this year’s Super Bowl as chains like Pizza Hut and Hooters stock up on cheap protein. Boneless chicken wings -- generally made from breast meat -- have been gaining space on menus for years, and now pork wings are joining the ranks. Restaurants are finding that Americans are longing for convenient and non-traditional snacks, and wingless wings seem to fit the bill.
Flo & Santos pub and eatery in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood can attest to their appeal. It’s had pork wings on the menu since opening eight years ago. Chefs toss the “flying pork wings” in buffalo, barbecue or teriyaki sauce, and five of them go for $14.
“They’re an easy sell. It’s something unique, something you can share,” General Manager Nicki Piersanti said. “Pork wings -- it’s funny -- pigs can’t fly.”
Kathleen Hoffman, chef at restaurant distributor US Foods Holding Corp., agrees with the sentiment, citing “a strong trend with millennials.” Her company has been selling pork wings, or cuts from the leg known as shanks, to restaurants for about three years, and they’re gaining steam.
While sales are still lower than their chicken counterparts, “pork wings could play an important role” in 2019, Hoffman said, noting that they easily take on flavor profiles such as Korean, Thai and Chinese.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is bursting with meat: Domestic production of chicken and pork has hit a record just as overseas demand wanes amid President Donald Trump’s trade war. Retail prices for boneless chicken-breast meat, usually used to make boneless wings, declined for a fourth straight year in 2018.
Pork is following the same trend, with retail chop prices tumbling 17 percent since 2014.
“We generally have a lot of protein in the country now,” said David Maloni, executive vice president of analytics for ArrowStream, a food supply-chain consultant. “People are trying to come up with new menu items and put wings around it.”
Bob File, the president of Pioneer Meats in Vandalia, Michigan, is credited with inventing the pig-wing category. He said Maple Leaf Foods sells them in the Canadian market, while Smithfield’s Farmland and Sysco also have their own brands. He predicts sales volumes could double in coming years as their popularity grows. He estimates about 5 to 7 million pounds of pig wings are sold a year currently.
His pig wings aren’t boneless -- it includes a small bone harvested from a hog’s fibula. But he’s working on a boneless version. File notes that pig wings have twice as much meat as chicken ones, and they’re easier to eat because they “come clean right off the bone.”
Two years ago, Hooters of America had pork wings tossed in a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce for $10.99. The bar-and-restaurant chain says it’s considering selling them again this year for a limited time. Bar Louie, which has 135 U.S. locations, added “porky wings” to its lineup late last year.
Pizza Hut, meanwhile, is promoting boneless chicken wings -- which aren’t really wings, of course -- that it added to its $5 menu in October. The Super Bowl is the chain’s biggest sales day of the year, and the company is predicting results that exceed last year’s, Chief Brand Officer Marianne Radley said in an interview. A big part of that, of course, will be wings.
“When you think about having a Super Bowl party and watching the Super Bowl, wings are a critical part,” she said.
--With assistance from Millie Munshi and Shruti Date Singh.
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