buffalo wings, bakery cafe
Spicy wing flavors are currently a favorite among American consumers.

As bakery cafes gear up for post-season football parties in January and February, spicy chicken wings are one of the hottest trends in the business. Your bakery cafe can dazzle the crowds with your own signature flavors of wings. And a word of advice: When it comes to flavor, don’t be afraid to kick it up a notch.

It’s no secret that spicy is an incendiary menu flavor right now. Technomic’s Flavor Lifecycle, which tracks flavors on their journey from innovation to ubiquity, shows many mature staples: Buffalo, chile, jalapeño, Cajun. But it also shows us what’s likely to come next.

“Menu categories see wide variation in flavor innovation,” says Bernadette Noone, vice president at Technomic. “Aji amarillo, a South American spice, is the leading cutting-edge spicy flavor in appetizers; while in entrées, it’s sambal, a Southeast Asian favorite. Spicy flavors that are one step closer to widespread acceptance—but still innovative—include poblano in appetizers and red chile in entrées.”

Spicy chicken wings are an enormous traffic driver to bring more sales into your retail stores. Consider that Americans will eat 1.3 billion chicken wings on the weekend of the National Football League’s biggest game of the year, according to the National Chicken Council.

When popular Buffalo Wild Wings asked its customers to vote on Twitter for which flavors should make a comeback in 2015, fans voted for Ghost Pepper and Bourbon Honey Mustard. The contending sauces included Sriracha Sizzle, Wicked Wasabi, Honey Ginger Kick, Classic Margarita, Korean BBQ, Chipotle Cherry Sting, Smoldering Santa Fe and Buttery Maple. These were just limited-time-only specials. Just as reminder, Buffalo Wild Wings menu specializes in 21 signature sauces and seasonings with flavor sensations ranging from Sweet BBQ to Blazin'.

Use special events like college and professional football games to roll out your own special sauces. To celebrate the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, Buffalo Wild Wings partnered with Mountain Dew to create a limited time only sauce - Zesty Citrus. Available in restaurants from December 14, 2015 through January 2, 2016, the bold citrus flavor of Mountain Dew was infused with lemongrass and spicy red pepper-flakes to create a blast of sweet and spicy.

For the first time, more than 60,000 fans attending the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl were able to purchase boneless wings spun in Zesty Citrus and Honey BBQ sauces at two B-Dubs branded concession areas and enjoy chicken tenders served with Honey BBQ at three additional locations within the stadium.

Tracking Flavor Trends

According to Technomic, the Flavor Lifecycle tracks adoption levels across concept categories with varying levels of innovation, from chef-driven restaurants to national chains. It dynamically projects trends for thousands of menu categories, and helps organizations find the right flavors before they reach the mainstream.

Even widely adopted flavors find new life with unique menu applications. The Flavor Lifecycle tool projects a new platform for wasabi—a longtime mature flavor for sushi—on early adopter salad menus. For Sriracha, now widely accepted on most handhelds (burgers, sandwiches, sushi and wings), the next push looks likely to be in tacos.
And if you’re looking for the little-known trend-to-be, Technomic also forecasts growth for gochujang (a spicy, salty paste from Asia, made from fermented soybeans, dried chiles and garlic).

Korean barbecue remains a hot trend in America, and one of Chicago’s top quick-service retailers is Crisp, a single unit operator that specializes in Korean fried chicken. Crisp sells five wings for $8.95 and 10 for $16.95, offering assorted flavors like Seoul Sassy (a subtly sweet sauce prepared with ginger, soy, garlic and other select spices) and Crisp BBQ (a Korean / American fusion sauce that is a little spicy, a little sweet and a little smoky, and is prepared with fresh herbs and spices).

Supply Factors

Chicken wing prices traditionally go up in the fourth quarter of the year as restaurants and supermarkets stock up for the Super Bowl, and prices usually peak in January during the run-up to the big game.

“Although the total amount of pounds of chicken produced last year rose by about 1.8 percent, the total number of chickens processed was virtually the same in 2014 as it was in 2013,” noted National Chicken Council Vice President of Communications Tom Super.  “A chicken only has two wings; therefore, the supply of wings is limited by the total number of chickens produced.”

The average price (wholesale, not retail) of whole wings is currently $1.48 per pound, down from $1.71 per pound last year, according to the Daily Northeast Broiler/Fryer Report by the US Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Marketing Service. Wing prices reached a record high of $2.11 per pound in January 2013.