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Good thing, wings cost less and beer's flat: Super Bowl fans are expected to splurge

Chicken wing prices have fallen for the second year in a row, in a windfall for Super Bowl snackers. Beef prices, however, are still climbing.
Justin Sullivan
/
Getty Images
Chicken wing prices have fallen for the second year in a row, in a windfall for Super Bowl snackers. Beef prices, however, are still climbing.

More than 100 million people in the United States are expected to watch the Super Bowl this weekend. Some will tune in for the football, others for the half-time show or the commercials, and some just to see Taylor Swift.

But there's one thing most people will do: Eat.

Some restaurants have been preparing for this moment for months.

"We would talk to our meat vendor over the summer and ask them to freeze pallets of wings or at least pre-purchase for us at a certain, agreed-up on price," says Marc Schechter, owner of Square Pie Guys pizza in San Francisco — home of the 49s who face off against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. "We were trying very early on to lock in a lower price."

Schechter expects to go through a whole lot of wings this weekend, along with a couple thousand pounds of mozzarella cheese for his deep-dish pizzas. He and his team began battering wings on Thursday, days before the big game.

That planning will help, as fans are expected to splurge. Whether ordering out for pizza and wings or cooking up nachos at home, the average Super Bowl fan is expected to spend about $43 on food and drinks this Sunday, according to the market research firm Circana. That's 23% more than last year.

"It's a celebration," says Circana vice president Joan Driggs. "You're going to do what you want to do. Maybe it's your tradition. Maybe you're adding a little something to the mix to spice it up. But people are going to go all in."

It helps that wages are now outpacing inflation and food prices have moderated over the last year. Wings, in particular, are plentiful this season and prices have fallen for the second year in a row. Research from Wells Fargoshows fresh chicken wing prices have dropped about 5% from last year while the price of frozen wings has fallen about 11%.

Kansas City restaurant expects brisk business for its hickory-smoked ribs and brisket

Beef prices, on the other hand, continue to climb, as cattle ranchers slowly rebuild their herds after years of drought. That means Chiefs fans may have to pay more for a Kansas City strip steak or barbecued ribs.

Nevertheless, Gates Bar-B-Q in Kansas City expects to do a brisk take-out business this weekend.

"'There's so many people that are coming in from out of town for friends and family," says Arzelia Gates, whose grandfather started the barbecue business almost 80 years ago. "We are very much a part of that."

Gates says even with elevated beef prices, customers are hungry for the restaurant's hickory-smoked ribs and brisket.

"We use three stages so it gives you the tenderness of the meat," she says. "And then we get that smoky flavor throughout."

Although grocery prices are still high, they haven't increased much in the past year — just 1.3% overall. And some foods, like shrimp, have actually gotten cheaper.

"Some people are going to get lucky this year," says Michael Swanson, a food economist at Wells Fargo. "The people that love shrimp are lucky and the guys who have to have that burger are going to pay a little bit more."

Grocery prices have risen just 1.3% over the last year, while wages have jumped more than three times as fast. The price of avocados — key to Super Bowl guacamole — has risen less than 1%.
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
/
Getty Images
Grocery prices have risen just 1.3% over the last year, while wages have jumped more than three times as fast. The price of avocados — key to Super Bowl guacamole — has risen less than 1%.

Beer and guacamole are ok, but chips and dip are more expensive

Guacamole and beer prices are essentially flat — rising less than 1% over the last year. (This is one case where "flat" in connection with beer is a good thing.) But prices are still climbing for other Super Bowl staples such as chips and dip and especially soft drinks.

Soda pop prices have risen sharply since the beginning of the pandemic, which is partly the result of costly aluminum cans.

Super Bowl hosts "might want to think about those 2-liter bottles with some ice and some cups," Swanson says. "They really save you a lot of money."

While savvy shoppers may try to save on some items, Swanson expects a lot of people to spend freely this Super Bowl. They've got money in their pockets, since wages have risen faster than food prices this past year. And there are 2.9 million more jobs now than there were a year ago.

"For all the issues that we have — and they're real issues — people have to appreciate the fact that it's going to be a blowout Super Bowl," Swanson says. "Most people, when they have a job they're going to spend money."

Restaurant owners Schechter and Gates say it's a super opportunity to eat, drink and celebrate, no matter which team you're rooting for.

"Go 'Niners," Schechter says.

And Gates chimes in, "Go Chiefs."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
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