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The high price of chicken is making cheaper dark meat like thighs more attractive in to restaurant chains


  • Chicken thighs are still rare on US menus, but they’re slowly growing.
  • Wingstop, Just Salad, and a few other chains are experimenting with selling dark meat.
  • Chicken breast prices have doubled in the last year.

High chicken prices are continuing into 2022, and it may lead to more restaurants adding dark meat to menus this year.

Chicken thighs are still relatively rare on US menus, but that could change soon.

“We’re a very white meat-focused market,” NPD analyst Darren Seifer previously told Insider. Just 2% of menus mention chicken thighs, compared to 42% with chicken wings, according to Technomic research firm.

Some brands have begun experimenting, though. Chicken wing chain Wingstop launched a virtual brand focused on thighs, Thighstop, Insider’s Nancy Luna reported. With a new use for thighs, the chain can buy whole chickens instead of separate parts and save money, Wingstop CEO Charlie Morrison told Insider. 

Other fast-casual chains have adopted similar strategies of adding thighs to menus, including Just Wing It, Just Salad, and Modern Market Eatery.

Experts were predicting a surge in demand for dark meat as it became more affordable relative to popular cuts like chicken breasts and wings, Insider reported in June 2021. Now data from poultry suppliers show this is playing out. Meat processing giant Perdue Farms reported boneless thigh sales increased by 15% in 2021, and ground chicken sales, which are mostly dark meat, jumped by 20%.

Demand for dark meat “has been spectacular,” president of fresh poultry Mark McKay told The Wall Street Journal. 

Chicken got more expensive in 2021, and wings, in particular, got plenty of media attention. Chicken wing consumption was up 17% in 2021, and breaded chicken is up 15% over the same period, according to NPD data. Chicken breast prices doubled last year, The Wall Street Journal reported. Thigh prices are also up, but to a relatively modest 54 cents per pound compared to $2 per pound of chicken breasts, based on data from research firm Urner Barry.

Wing prices are likely to spike again in the near term as the Super Bowl and college football playoffs near, both big events for wing sales.

Do you have a story to share about a retail or restaurant chain? Email this reporter at [email protected].

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