How Buffalo Wings & Rings prepared for surging chicken wing prices and is proactively addressing them
Chicken wing prices are soaring and that’s causing some headaches for franchise concepts centered around the popular football season dish. In fact, according to BMO Capital Markets, as of the middle of September, chicken wing prices were at an average of $2.22 which represents a 30% increase over the same time last year. This follows decades of increased value being placed on the wing, a part of the chicken that was largely seen as a throwaway item for years before wings started gaining popularity when peppery hot sauce was added for the first time back in 1964 at a restaurant in Buffalo. This growing popularity can pose a struggle for farmers to keep up with demand from American wing lovers, and that leads to periodic shortages like this one.
Cincinnati-based elevated sports restaurant franchise Buffalo Wings & Rings has been in business for more than three decades and understands the ebbs and flows of chicken wing prices and their impact on franchisees. So, they were prepared.
“We have been through these cycles many times and have learned and refined our approach to adjust for them," said Philip Schram, Chief Development Officer for Buffalo Wings & Rings. "At the same time, everyone in the industry is impacted in the same manner when there are price fluctuations like this. So, it’s a level playing field.”
Schram, and the other members of the executive team for the 75+ unit global franchise concept, put a plan in place to modernize and elevate the restaurant chain’s experience over the course of the last dozen years. Part of this elevation included a heavy focus on crafting and curating a menu with a broader variety and an elevated take on chicken wings beyond those found at typical “man cave” sports bars as well as featuring excellent alternative dishes at a lower food cost. By investing time, effort and creativity on a strategy to enhance the quality of not just the wings, but all items on the Buffalo Wings & Rings menu, the company set itself up to weather short term wing cost fluctuations that impact restaurants selling lower quality wings at a lower price point.
"The wing price increase validates what we've been doing over the last several years,” said Dan Doulen, Director of Franchise Development for Buffalo Wings & Rings. “We know that chicken wings are what a lot of people come to us for, but it validates us in the fact that we’ve made strides to ensure our food quality is at a higher level. We saw it coming, and we strategically put effort and R&D behind an overall menu elevation.”
However, the company isn’t resting and patting themselves on their collective back.
After the initial news of a chicken wing shortage, Buffalo Wings & Rings CEO Nader Masadeh gathered the troops and created a “chicken wing task force” in order to develop solutions to account for the increased commodity cost. The group focused on making sure that the impact was felt minimally by the franchisees operating BW&R locations across the U.S.
The task force consists of a handful of the executive team members working hand-in-hand with a select group of franchisees, partners and suppliers.
“We are currently exploring everything from menu engineering, to pricing initiatives, and different approaches to food costs,” said Masadeh. “We are doing a boneless wing promotion called ‘We Double Dip Dare You’ where we are training servers to ‘dare’ those who order wings to try our boneless wings and receive a menu item for free as an incentive for the guest.”
The company is also structuring a contest throughout their system with rewards for restaurants that sell the most boneless wings. Additionally, the corporate team has been busy at work, negotiating to procure better pricing on other menu items – already establishing some lower food costs in order to offset the high cost of wings.
Masadeh and the Buffalo Wings & Rings team are approaching these as short-term strategies and believe the groundwork of quality across the entire menu sets the company up for sustainable, consistent success. Masadeh noted that traditional wing eaters are simply not going to switch to boneless in droves. With that in mind, he believes the company’s long-term strategic approach turns this price fluctuation into an opportunity to promote other menu offerings in order to steal market share from competitors who are less focused on wings.
“We have so many incredible menu options that we are proud of but probably don't get credit for with casual restaurant goers,” said Masadeh. “This shift in pricing will likely push some other restaurants out of the wing space who only dabble in wings as a side item. This presents an opportunity for us to shine a light on the amazing elevated menu we offer, and win over some new fans with our full menu of innovation, variety and flavor.”