NFL Lockout Could Destroy Chicken Wing Industry

(Reuters) - An extended NFL lockout would be devastating to the chicken wing industry, which has already seen prices drop precipitously this year, the chief executive of Sanderson Farms Inc (SAFM.O) said.

"It would kill wings, it would be terrible on wings," Joe Sanderson said at the Reuters Global Food and Agriculture Summit on Monday.

Chicken wings are popular fare at sports bars, especially on fall and winter Sundays when the National Football League has most of its games.

After weeks of deliberations NFL team owners and players have not reached agreements on a number of labor issues, including pay and profit sharing. A federal court will hear an antitrust suit filed by NFL players on April 6.

Wholesale chicken wing prices generally run up in the weeks ahead of the league's Super Bowl each February. This year, however, prices have been pressured by too many chickens on the lots.

Wholesale prices for chicken wings in Georgia were $1.04 per pound just ahead of this year's big game, down from $1.74 per pound a year earlier. This week, wing prices plunged to 95 cents per pound, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Sanderson is the largest supplier of chicken wings to foodservice companies such as Sysco Corp (SYY.N) and U.S. Foodservice.

Last year, Sanderson saw such great demand for wings that it could not keep up. The company sells chicken wings as well as chicken tenders and pieces of breast meat, which are marketed as "boneless wings" at establishments such as Buffalo Wild Wings Inc (BWLD.O).

"This year we had more than plenty," Sanderson said.

If the NFL does not play later this year, "it would be very bad for chicken wings and I do not know to what extent it would be bad for other products they sell in those watering holes or sports bars. It would not be good, I'd tell you that," he said.

As a fan whose company has a box for New Orleans Saints games at the Louisiana Superdome, the lack of football would hurt Sanderson on another level.

"I'd die," Sanderson joked when asked about the impact of a lockout.

While the fate of the upcoming NFL season is up for debate, Sanderson appeared hopeful that an agreement will be reached.

"This thing will be resolved, it's going to be a great season and a great season for wings," he said. "Saints and wings."

(Reporting by Jessica Wohl and Michael Hirtzer)

Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.