We sometimes like to look at the lighter side of capital markets. Or, in this case, the crispier, more tender side. Since the end of 1997, the CPI index for chicken is up about 50%. That may sound like a lot, but it’s actually right in-line with 2% inflation the Fed targets (of course, they target core PCE, which is a bit different from CPI, but that’s another story). Happily for white and dark meat lovers alike, consumers pay about 3% less for chicken than they did in March of 2015, when prices peaked. The interesting thing, though, is that wholesale chicken prices have been an entirely different story, especially for what we would argue are the best parts of the bird: high flavor, fun to eat, and imminently friable wings. As shown in the chart below, the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s price index for bulk chicken wing dock prices have risen by 200% since the same period in 1997.
You may be asking, “so what does this have to do with the price of wings in…” and believe it or not, we have an answer. Below, we show the percentage change in six stocks since the IPO of pure-play (and superior chicken tender purveyor, in our view) Bojangles’. BOJA was up about 50% right after it IPO’d but has been mired in the doldrums since, and over the last six months has suffered an especially rough run. Surprisingly – or perhaps not, given the menus – Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD) has traded in lockstep with BOJA. BWLD isn’t quick service, instead focusing on the full-service market, but it’s got a similarly avian focus on fried chicken. Kentucky Fried Chicken, another ubiquitous source of all things clucky, is part of Yum! Brands (YUM), which has a more diversified portfolio of fast food options including Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. YUM hasn’t been a world-beater, but it’s handily out-feathered its crispy competition as far as current public chicken chains go. Before you ask: Chick-Fil-A is privately held, Church’s was taken out by PE firm FFL Partners in August of 2009, and Popeye’s was bought out by Restaurant Brands International (QSR) in March of 2017, just before the going got tough for chicken joints.
We’re sure you’ve noticed by now that there are three other stocks featured in our chart. All three are publicly traded chicken producers and distributors. Maple Leaf (MFI, traded in Canada; we show performance in USD) and Tyson (TSN) have more diversified business models, but Sanderson Farms (SAFM) is a pure play, with 100% of its revenues coming from various kinds of processed chicken. It’s no surprise, then, that as chicken prices have soared in the wholesale market despite relatively subdued consumer costs, that the companies who sell chicken to restaurants have pecked away at the performance of the firms that sell the juicy, delicious end product to consumers.