(USA TODAY) -- One of America's favorite Super Bowl munchies is in jeopardy.
There might not be enough wings to feed America's insatiable hankering for Buffalo wings. This Super Bowl, snackers will have 12.3 million fewer wings to chow down on than last year, says the National Chicken Council.
The culprit: Last summer's drought drove up feed prices so farmers couldn't afford to raise as many birds. About 1.2 billion wings will be eaten this Super Bowl weekend - a big dip from 2012's big game.
This is at a time when wings increasingly are becoming to Super Bowl parties what eggs are to Easter and candy canes to Christmas. Snacking is so important to Super Bowl festivities, in fact, that many snack makers say the week leading up to the Super Bowl is when they post their biggest weekly sales bump of the year.
Now, suppliers are charging a premium for the coveted wings.
In the Northeast, where Buffalo wings are most popular, wholesale prices have flown from $1.21 a pound in 2011 and $1.82 last year, to land at $2.06 the first week of February this year, says restaurant purchasing partner Consolidated Concepts.
The firm's strategy chief, Bruce Reinstein, says the demand's even higher because McDonald's has been buying up wings left and right as it tests Mighty Wings in 500 Chicago locations. Spokeswoman Tyler Litchenberger says McDonald's carries enough clout so it'll be able to get the wing prices it wants, but "if and when" the restaurant chain expands its wing market, it'll make sure not to buy out the country's wing supply.
How the other restaurants are trying to save a buck:
• Boneless wings. They're less messy, less fatty, and they're also less expensive for the restaurant. They're also not wings: They're chunks of chicken breast, which have stayed at a much lower and much more consistent price than wings, according to the National Chicken Council. Wingstop is pushing the no-bones option this Super Bowl with a Boneless Blitz promotion for 25 boneless wings for $19.99.
• Price increases. The flaming hot competition between wing joints makes most owners think twice about raising prices of their flagship product. Not the Anchor Bar, the restaurant claiming to be the birthplace of the Buffalo wing. In December, the Buffalo, N.Y., restaurant raised menu prices to help cover the rising wholesale cost. Wing nuts don't mind, though, says sales chief Mark Dempsey. "If you want to try the real taste of the original Buffalo wing, then there's nowhere else to go but the Anchor Bar."
• Non-wing snacks. Hurricane Grill & Wings has gotten heavier on the grill and lighter on the wings. In 2012, the franchiser introduced three new Super Bowl snacks: sliders, mini-wraps and a smoked fish dip. "We're adding value to other parts of the menu, candidly, to move people off of wings," says CEO Martin O'Dowd. But come game day, nothing separates O'Dowd from his wings. "We have a sea salt and vinegar wing that I can't stop eating."
By Oliver St. John, USA TODAY