There was a time when restaurateurs could count on offsetting the high cost of their prime cuts of beef with the likes of their glazed and dry-rubbed chicken wings. But America’s high demand for the little morsels, that use to be considered the “poor man’s” part of the chicken, has changed all that. Nowadays, believe it or not, wings are the most expensive part of the chicken.
According to US Food’s August 11th, 2017 Farmer’s Report, “The jumbo wing market was up this week, as demand continues to remain strong along with supply continuing to be tight. There are spot loads of small and medium wings available, but they are commanding premium prices.” Restaurants are reporting a jump of more than 60 percent in recent months, and this rise is part of the reason that Buffalo Wild Wings reported a drop in their second quarter profits in 2017 of almost 63 percent.
The Little Guy
While restaurants such as Buffalo Wild Wings and Wingstop are definitely feeling the effects of the nation’s chicken wing shortage, smaller restaurants that counted on this cheaper fare to bring in the football crowd and increase their thirst just a bit can find it increasingly difficult to compete. When shortages arise, those that can purchase the most are the first in line.
According to an article in the Washington Post, a chef and co-owner of All Set, a restaurant in Maryland, reported paying about $2.90 for a pound of wings in recent months. At the end of 2015, that same pound ran about $1.67. Those that are running on tight margins are going to have to look for alternatives.
An alternative that Buffalo Wild Wings has come up with is making “boneless” chicken wings their lower-cost option. One would think that the extra labor required in taking out the bone would actually increase the cost, until you discover that the boneless chicken wing is really a chicken breast in disguise.
Other alternatives that the neighborhood sports bar might consider are chicken bits and chicken fritters paired with similar sauces found on your favorite wing selections: buffalo, parmesan garlic, and barbecue. Other solutions may include creating more appetizer platters that incorporate a few chicken wings amidst loaded potato skins, fried dill pickles or onion rings, and pot stickers.
According to a survey conducted by Technomic, a Chicago-based consulting and research firm, in August of 2017, 36 percent of consumers would like to see smaller plates with ethnic flavors (think tapas). In addition, 51 percent of consumers are more willing to try a new flavor if it arrives on a small dish, and 38 percent visit a specific restaurant due to a favorite appetizer.
To take advantage of this, smaller businesses may consider steering clear of the all-time favorite chicken wing and launching into unique offerings that offer higher profit margins. Consider a unique take on guacamole served with an alternative to tortilla chips such as deep fried or baked pita chips. Unique mini-sliders, Mediterranean flatbreads with pesto, parmesan and fresh herbs, and bite-sized meatballs flavored with onions, scallions, ginger and garlic are just a few all-time favorites with a distinctive twist. Consider a signature appetizer dish to establish loyal and repeat patrons.
Knowing this changing landscape in consumer demand, the typical chicken wing dish may just morph into a Mediterranean platter that includes creamy feta cheese with jalapeno and sundried tomatoes, or goat cheese stuffed bacon wrapped dates with black olive tapenade. In the land of ethnic flavors, left over strip steak becomes a Japanese style skewer in a spicy Asian marinade.
According to Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, “Never protect the past. If you never protect the past, you will be willing to never love it so much that you won’t let it go.” Times may be changing for the iconic chicken wing. As a restaurateur, it’s important to look for alternatives instead of remaining stuck in a pattern that could ultimately lead to decreasing profits.