Those fried-chicken sandwiches that America loves won’t be getting cheaper any time soon as flour, poultry and oil prices jumped in the latest US inflation report.
As US inflation reached a four-decade high of 9.1%, food prices accelerated even faster, surging 10.4% in June from a year earlier, Labor Department data show. And certain categories, such as the key ingredients for fried chicken, saw even bigger gains. June data shows the prices of flour, chicken, fats and oils all jumped almost 20%.
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That’s bad news for restaurants across the nation that have latched onto fried-chicken sandwiches in recent years to boost sales. While the menu item has always enjoyed popularity, the craze reached new heights in 2019, when a viral Popeyes sandwich sold out and caused traffic jams in the drive-thru lane.
McDonald’s Corp. and Restaurant Brands International Inc.’s Burger King – Popeyes’s corporate sibling -- have since followed with their own versions. The crispy sandwiches have also proliferated at higher-priced establishments, such as Dave’s Hot Chicken, which is backed by Canadian hip-hop artist Drake.
Higher costs for ingredients are forcing restaurants to hike prices just as there are signs that some lower-income customers are clamping down on discretionary spending.
At Atomic Wings, which has about 15 locations primarily on the East Coast, profit is down as costs rise for fried-chicken sandwiches, boneless wings and tenders, according to Chief Executive Officer Zak Omar, who spoke after the release of June inflation data on Wednesday.
“We don’t see any relief this year, so we’re hoping for 2023,” he said, referring to inflation. “I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
After raising menu prices 25% earlier this year, he’s hoping he doesn’t have to do another one. While wing prices have come down recently, Omar said breast prices have jumped about 60% over the last six months.
“You’re not going to raise it to $20 for a 10-piece chicken,” he said. “How much can a consumer pay?”
Chris Turner, the chief financial officer of KFC-owner Yum! Brands Inc., said at a conference last month that the restaurant company is facing “really strong inflation” in US commodities and wages, but doesn’t want to scare off diners by raising prices too much.
“We’re not getting too far ahead of the customer on price,” Turner said at the event.