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Exposing the ‘Boneless Wing’ Scam

When is a Wing not a Wing? When it’s a ‘Boneless Wing’, as sold by most of the major Fast Food chains these days. But the reasoning behind using the name ‘Wing’ to describe something that’s not a Wing makes an intriguing tale – and there’s more to it than the average person might think…

So-called ‘Boneless Wings’ with a variety of Sauces. Not as enticing when you think
of them as what they fundamentally are: oversized Chicken Nuggets…

Okay. The headline may be a little over-dramatic, and I’m sure that most folks have already caught on that ‘Boneless’ Wings are really just chunks of Chicken Tenders or, as some chains present them, oversized Chicken Nuggets, made from the universally demonized Pink Slime (mechanically-deboned Chicken Protein). There’s no juicy, tender Wing meat involved at all.

‘Grandma, where did Chicken Wings come from?’

Well, now… Wings used to be, more or less, byproducts of the Chicken raising industry. Most consumers wanted Breasts and Legs and Thighs. The Wings were sold off cheap, when they could be sold, to Soup-making concerns and Asian diners who have always prized them, along with the Feet. The objective for Poultry farmers has always been to sell everything but the ‘cluck’, if they could.

I’m old enough to remember when the Wing craze first hit town. Wings were the ‘it’ food, the easy-to-dip finger food and you could order them at the bar without getting a table. Pairing them with an order of Deep Fried Zucchini and you could kid yourself you were having an actual meal. And the Dips! A whole universe of flavour sensations seemed to open up in a blink. Chicken Wings are good by themselves, but, presented with an array of Sweet to Spicy Dips, they became an ideal way to feast your taste buds.

And, more importantly… Wings were cheap. I remember getting a bowlful for $2. And on special occasions – dubbed Wing Nights – you could get them for a dime apiece. Cheap sustenance for a beat-pounding radio reporter.

So why call ‘Boneless Wings’ Wings?

It’s all in the marketing, and it’s driven by the craze for Wings.

Would you believe that Wings were, not too long ago, more expensive for restaurateurs to serve than Chicken Breasts? Believe it. And the reason was sort of poetic justice: Wings got more expensive when the demand for them spiked owing to the rise of the Wing tradition. See, you can only get two wings from each Chicken you raise, and that means you’re left with a lot of other parts to get rid of. Ever wonder why there are always Chicken Breasts and Thighs on sale and discounted in bulk ‘Family Packs’ at the supermarket? They’re ‘surplus’ from the Wing Production industry, and their price drops as a result of their overabundance, and having to sell them all. And sell them, the poultry farmers must, to keep their operations profitable.

So, to capitalize on the Wing Craze, Meat packers started turning some of their surplus Breasts into Wing-like shapes, Breading them and marketing them at a higher price as ‘Boneless WIngs’. And consumers bought the proposition. It sounded like a win-win all around; for the farmers, the packers, the restos and the customers. And the demand for Chicken Breasts rose accordingly, and so did the price. And, with fewer real Wings being served in the restos, their price subsided accordingly, but they’re still nowhere near as cheap as they originally were. Too bad!

The bottom line…

At it’s simplest level, the ‘Boneless Wing Scam’ is a classic exercise in marketing. Make something less desirable seem more enticing and raise the price. But I think that there’s something fundamentally wrong about calling a thing something it’s not.

~ Maggie J.