Chicken CEO: Politicized NFL Has Hurt Market For Wings, Leg Quarters Unaffected

And don't get him started on breasts.
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Your share. By Shane Adams from Olathe, KS, USA (The Bucket Aftermath) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Your share. By Shane Adams from Olathe, KS, USA (The Bucket Aftermath) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

On September 22, at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama ostensibly aimed at bolstering Luther Strange’s poll numbers ahead of the party primary he would eventually lose to Roy Moore, Donald Trump did the impossible: he turned Americans against the NFL.

Irrespective of how you feel about player protests, let’s be honest with each other about something: no one gets excited about the national anthem at sports games. I mean sure, fans do the literal song and figurative dance, but the very fact that the PA announcer has to specifically instruct people to stand up is evidence that adult sports fans think about the singing of the national anthem about like grade-school students think about the pledge of allegiance. You do it because you have to. It’s a decorum thing.

The fact that sports fans would secretly rather be sitting down drinking beer and eating chicken wings is no more unpatriotic than it is treasonous for a second grader to secretly wish he/she didn’t have to stand up and mouth an oath to America first thing in the morning on school days.

Anyway, a large percentage of sports fans are now furious at the NFL even though the player protests in question started a long time before Donald Trump was President. Now, the NFL has turned into a corporate scapegoat. When something goes wrong, you can just blame Colin Kaepernick. Just ask Papa John’s, which recently blamed protests against institutionalized racism for flagging (NFL pun fully intended) pizza sales.

Ok, so that brings us to chicken purveyor Sanderson Farms. On Thursday, the company’s stock collapsed the most in 13 years after posting Q4 results that missed on the bottom line.

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Yeah. Tough day. On the call, management attributed the weak quarter in part to hurricane effects and slumping chicken prices. Here’s a snapshot of the market:

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If you word search the call transcript, “wings” comes up at least 10 times, which isn’t surprising because after all, this is a chicken company. Here’s Joe Sanderson delivering his general view on the market:

We feel like boneless leg quarters, we've already made sales in January that are up a couple of cents from where they are and they're pretty good right now. Tenders, we feel fine about that. Only thing I have some reservation is wings, but we feel fine about the market.

That’s right. The outlook for “leg quarters” is solid and Joe is feeling “fine” about “tenders” but wings… well, that’s a whole different story.

Here’s where professional football comes in. Management’s wing commentary is pretty ambiguous and although they pose some alternative explanations, the NFL ends up taking some of the blame. Let’s go to Joe again:

We think, once we get past Christmas, boneless breast is going to move up. I don't know what wings are going to do. There's been a lot of substitution of boneless wings and wing joints, and then the NFL has hurt the wing stores. And that is the traffic going through some of the wing places that we service.

And here he is implicitly suggesting that although hurricane disruptions were in part to blame, the storm effects were just gas on the fire or maybe “oil in the fryer” is better:

When the market is in decline to begin with, and then you start putting more meat on the market when the demand is declining, and wings were already declining, and it just, it exacerbated a bad situation with wings.

Yes, devastating hurricanes “just exacerbated a bad situation with wings.”

It didn’t stop there. In response to a question about the 2018 pricing outlook from Stephens Inc’s Farha Aslam, Joe started in on the wings again:

You never know who's going to be running features on chicken and tenders, and the only thing is puzzling me right now is wings. We have been talking to our wing customers and they're the ones that are telling us that this -- they're seeing less traffic in their stores, and they attribute that to the NFL.

Note how he effectively tries to preempt questions about whether he’s actually trying to blame a bad quarter on protests against racial inequality: “they’re the ones that are telling us this.” In other words, if you’ve got a (chicken) bone to pick with the idea that NFL players are tanking wing sales, take it up with the guys running the wing shops.

Joe goes on to explicitly say that it is “not [the company’s] judgement” that the NFL is to blame for the cloudy wing outlook.

Maybe not, but if you read that transcript, you’d be forgiven for coming to conclusion that while Sanderson didn’t want to go full Papa John’s, they didn’t mind tacitly scapegoating sports stars for a bad quarter when the opportunity fell into their lap.

But hey, maybe this isn’t all bad. I mean how can you argue with solid growth in “leg quarters” and an upbeat outlook on “tenders” and “breasts”?

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