Forget pizza: Wings fly high on Super Bowl Sunday – USATODAY.com

 Forget pizza: Wings fly high on Super Bowl Sunday – USATODAY.com

The New York Giants and New England Patriots won’t be Sunday’s only competitors. Super Bowl snack makers also are battling for a spot in living room buffets, where chicken wings have become a highflying contender.

Football fans have cultivated a palate for wings during the last several years, and these saucy snacks now rank second only to salsa and dips this year on the list of favorite Super Bowl snacks, according to Harris Interactive‘s annual Supervalu Snack Down survey. Americans will scarf down 1.25 billion wings while watching Sunday’s game, the National Chicken Council projects.

Behind all this is the ferocious, multibillion-dollar battle among makers and sellers of pizza, chicken, chili, chips and sliced meats for “share of stomach” on Super Bowl Sunday, one of the biggest snacking days of the year.

“It’s Americana now — it’s wings and beer and a ballgame,” says Paul Ballard, CEO of Wow Cafe and Wingery, the nation’s No. 3 wing chain. “That’s kind of what the day’s all about.”

Chicken wings were the game-day favorite for 23% of Americans in the Harris poll, close behind dips and spreads at 32% preferred. Pizza and salty snacks tied for third at 14%. In last year’s survey, wings received 22% of the vote — a jump from 16% in 2010.

Why wings are flying high:

•Beer compatibility. People find wings compatible with beer and perfect to eat in a bar, says Golden Gate University consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow.

•Tradition. Super Bowl Sunday is widely regarded as the Thanksgiving Day of sporting events, and wings have become its turkey-like centerpiece.

•The manliness factor. “The Super Bowl’s a macho event — it’s men slamming into each other — so you’ve got to have macho food,” Yarrow says.

•Practicality. Wings are accessible, deliverable and inexpensive, making them suitable for house parties. “If you’re going to feed a large group, this is a cheap way to do it,” says Technomic President Ron Paul.

Super Bowl Sunday is the hottest day of the year for the nation’s top three chicken wing chains: Buffalo Wild Wings, Wingstop and Wow Cafe and Wingery, says Technomic. Buffalo Wild Wings sold more than 6.5 million wings nationwide during the big game last year — up from 5.1 million in 2009. And Wingstop expects to sell 290% more wings than on an average Sundays.

“Wings’ popularity has grown, I think, partly because they’re easy to eat, they come in a whole variety of flavors and you can share them,” Buffalo Wild Wings CEO Sally Smith says.

But chicken-centric restaurants aren’t the only eateries cashing in on the wing craze. More than a quarter of consumers buy wings from pizza chains, while only 16% get them from vendors that strictly sell chicken, the National Chicken Council reports.

Wings are a vital part of Super Bowl sales for Pizza Hut, says marketing chief Kurt Kane. The chain sold 4.2 million wings for the big game last year and plans to sell 4.8 million this year. And at Domino’s, wings account for nearly a quarter of Super Bowl orders.

So who’s sliding as wings soar? Super Bowl burger sales have been steadily declining, the survey reports.

Forget pizza: Wings fly high on Super Bowl Sunday – USATODAY.com.

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