Even if your favorite college basketball team falls out of contention, the March tourneys still provide an excellent excuse to gather around a platter of your favorite chicken wings. But the excuses don't end with March. Wings have remained a year-round favorite, exhibiting substantial innovation and room for growth according to recent research from restaurant consultants Technomic.
“Wings and sports have long been a winning combination—and more than 10 percent of all wing-based limited-time offers are game-day promotions,” says Technomic Executive Vice President Darren Tristano. “However, wings’ overall appeal comes from their ability to suit consumers’ desire for customization, including traditional and global flavor options from sweet to super hot, and for portion flexibility, serving as snacks, starters, entrées and sides. And they are fun finger foods that are easy to share, so they lend a social aspect.”
In its new Category Close-Up: Wings report, Technomic delves into its MenuMonitor online menu-tracking resource and finds that 36 percent of the Top 500 restaurant chains offer wings, and that number has grown year after year.
Of particular note is the extent to which restaurants have innovated in the wing category:
Wing flavors and sauces found on menus range from Buffalo and barbecue to the tequila-lime-barbecue at Quaker Steak & Lube and the Raspberry Ice—a sweet and tangy blend of raspberry and horseradish—at Hurricane Grill &Wings.
Buffalo/hot sauces are the most commonly menued wing sauces. Among these types, the less-spicy mild and medium sauces have declined as Buffalo and “extra-hot” varieties have grown.
Wing concepts offer an average of 18 different sauces. Hurricane Grill lists more than 30, as does Wild Wing Café. Variety is also found at chains not focused on wings—Beef ‘O’ Brady’s and Cheeseburger in Paradise, for example, each offer 12 options.
Sweet-style barbecue sauces are more popular than spicy-style barbecue sauces, though preferences vary heavily by region. Consumer preference for sweet sauces indicates opportunity for flavors such as sweet and sour, honey-chipotle and maple-brown sugar.
Fully 28 percent of wing-focused limited-time offers promote new wing flavors, offering operators a compelling method to drive sales while testing new wing varieties.
Boneless wings are on the rise. And, interestingly, as restaurants have added them, the incidence of traditional wings has not decreased. Operators have found boneless wings appeal to a new consumer—one who does not enjoy the finger-licking aspect of traditional wings.