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A lawsuit picks a bone with Buffalo Wild Wings: Are 'boneless wings' really wings?

The exterior of a Buffalo Wild Wings in Jacksonville, Florida.
Rick Diamond
/
Getty Images for Buffalo Wild Wings

Can a "boneless chicken wing" truly be called a wing?

That's the question posed by a new class-action lawsuit filed last week in federal court by a Chicago man who purchased a round of boneless wings in January at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Mount Prospect, Ill.

Based on the name and description of the wings, the complaint says, Aimen Halim "reasonably believed the Products were actually wings that were deboned" — in other words, that they were constituted entirely of chicken wing meat.

But the "boneless wings" served at Buffalo Wild Wings are not. Instead, they are made of white meat from chicken breasts.

Had Halim known that, he "would not have purchased them, or would have paid significantly less for them," he claims in his lawsuit. Furthermore, he alleged, the chain "willfully, falsely, and knowingly misrepresented" its boneless wings as actual chicken wings.

The only response from Buffalo Wild Wings has come in the form of a tweet.

"It's true. Our boneless wings are all white meat chicken. Our hamburgers contain no ham. Our buffalo wings are 0% buffalo," the chain wrote on Monday.

According to a report last month by the Associated Press, breast meat is cheaper than bone-in chicken wings, with a difference of more than $3 per pound.

In fact, wings were once cheaper than breast meat. The lawsuit dates that change in price difference back to the Great Recession, citing a 2009 New York Times story about the steady popularity of chicken wings, even as price-conscious consumers had cut back on eating out.

Around that time, chicken producers were trending toward larger, hormone-plumped birds, a 2018 story in the Counter noted. Yet no matter how much white meat a bigger chicken could produce, it still only had two wings.

Halim's lawsuit asks for a court order to immediately stop Buffalo Wild Wings from making "misleading representations" at the chain's 1,200 locations nationwide.

Some of the bar chain's competitors, including Domino's and Papa Johns, call their chicken breast nuggets "chicken poppers" or "boneless chicken," the lawsuit notes. "A restaurant named Buffalo Wild 'Wings' should be just as careful if not more in how it names its products," it said.

The suit also demands unspecified compensation for monetary losses suffered by Halim and all other customers of Buffalo Wild Wings locations in Illinois.

Class action lawsuits against food and beverage companies have grown more frequent in recent years. Many accuse packaged food products, such as the kind available in grocery stores, of deceptive or misleading labels, packaging or advertisements.

Such cases have risen from 18 in 2008 to over 300 in 2021, according to Perkins Coie, a law firm that tracks food and beverage litigation and represents corporations. The number slowed last year, the firm found.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.