WASHINGTON –– More than 1.23 billion wing portions will be consumed during Super Bowl weekend (weekend of Feb. 3), as fans watch the San Francisco 49ers vs. the Baltimore Ravens, according to the National Chicken Council's 2013 Wing Report.

Compared to last year's numbers, Super Bowl wing consumption is expected to be down about 1 percent, or 12.3 million wings, but not because demand is declining. "Chicken companies produced about 1 percent fewer birds last year, due in large part to record high corn and feed prices," said Bill Roenigk, NCC’s chief economist and market analyst.

Corn makes up more than two-thirds of chicken feed and corn prices hit an all-time high in 2012, due to two reasons: last summer's drought and pressure from a federal government requirement that mandates 40 percent of the US corn crop be turned into fuel in the form of ethanol, he added. “Simply put, less corn equals higher feed costs, which means fewer birds produced," Roenigk said.

Results from a new NCC poll conducted by Harris Interactive indicate 57 percent of US adults who eat chicken wings typically like to eat their wings with ranch dressing; 43 percent of consumers chose barbecue sauce as their typical snack or dipping sauce; 38 percent said hot sauce; 35 percent said bleu cheese; and 34 percent chose celery. Only 8 percent eat their wings sans sauces.

Seventy-nine percent of US adults eat chicken wings and consumption does not vary significantly by region or gender. Women (77 percent) are just as likely as men (82 percent) to eat a few wings.

Most chicken wings, especially those destined for restaurants, are disjointed, with the third joint (the thin part known as the flapper) being exported to Asian countries and the meatier first and second joints being sold domestically. The wing is usually split into two parts – or portions or segments – known as the "drumette" and the mid-section or "flat" and sold to restaurants or retail grocery outlets.

Supply of wings is limited by the total number of chickens produced. When demand for wings is stronger than demand for other chicken parts, the price of wings go up, as it did in 2012. The wholesale price of wings is predicted to be the most expensive ever during Super Bowl XLVII as demand rises and the supply has shrunk. 

Wings are also currently the highest-priced part of the chicken. Wholesale wings are currently at about $2.11 per lb. (Northeast), the highest on record at the US Department of Agriculture, up 22 cents or 12 percent from one year earlier.

As wing prices always go up in the fourth quarter of the year while restaurants stock up for the Super Bowl, prices usually peak in January during the run-up to the big game. But many analysts expect demand will hold steady even after the NFL season ends.

For the 52 weeks ending Nov. 24, 2012, both fresh and prepared wings totaled $1.6 billion in sales – an increase of 5.4 percent compared to a year earlier, according to Nielsen Perishables Group FreshFacts data.

Originally offered as limited-time-only menu items at various fast-food menus, chicken wings have since become a staple of casual dining and pizza places. Every casual dining chain offers chicken wings as an appetizer, if not an entrée. Ready-to-eat or heat-and-eat wings are increasingly showing up in the delicatessen and prepared foods section of supermarkets, a growing trend. 

"Orders at carry-outs and restaurants for chicken wings on Super Bowl Sunday will increase more on that day than any other winter Sunday – a 156 percent increase," said Harry Balzer, vice president of the NPD Group. Chicken strips will also be up 43 percent over a typical winter Sunday and orders for fried chicken on the bone will be up 33 percent, according to NPD Group data.

In 2013, more than 13.25 billion chicken wings, about 3 billion lbs., will be marketed as wings, the NCC estimates. The number of wing portions sold is estimated to be 26.5 billion because the vast majority of wings are cut into two segments or portions. This represents about a 2 percent decrease from 2012, reflecting chicken production estimates for 2013.