Skyrocketing bone-in wing prices and the impact this will have on restaurants menuing chicken wings have been all over the news lately. It’s a case of demand outpacing supply, and many restaurant operators have been forced to increase bone-in menu prices or change their product mix by offering other options, like boneless wings. Further, a number of operators have had to a cut back on offering consumers discounts and specials on bone-in wings. The question is, how will all of this affect the demand for chicken wings at restaurants in the future?  

How strong is demand for chicken wings?

When reviewing the trend in servings of chicken wings at restaurants, it appears Americans’ appetite for wings may be waning. For YE September 2017 vs. the prior year, servings of chicken wings were up by a modest 1 percent. However, this growth rate for wings in aggregate is somewhat deceiving. A look at the trends for bone-in vs. boneless finds demand for the favored bone-in wings is quite strong – servings were up 6 percent while declining 6 percent for boneless wings. Bone-in wings dominate the market (1.1 billion servings), accounting for 64 percent of all wings served in restaurants.  Fewer than half of bone-in buyers also purchase boneless wings.  These findings mean restaurant operators have some difficult choices to make.  What impact will increasing prices of bone-in wings have on their overall wings business?  Will a shift in product mix find favor with bone-in aficionados? 

What concepts are most vulnerable to shifts in purchase behavior?

Taking a look at share of the chicken wing market by segment/category reveals casual dining and QSR pizza are the most vulnerable in terms of a shift in purchase patterns on behalf wing buyers. These two concepts alone account for six out of ten chicken wings served in commercial restaurants. A distant third and fourth are QSR chicken and fast casual. 

Are consumers likely to accept higher prices or will they switch their orders?

The question that continues to come to the forefront is whether consumers will accept the higher prices of bone-in wings or switch to the cheaper option of boneless wings. The less expensive option (boneless) is typically made from chicken breast and formed like a wing to appeal to bone-in wing buyers. 

Foodservice marketers are eager to understand the purchase characteristics of consumers who order bone-in compared to those who choose boneless wings. To shed some light on these issues, we are developing a new report, The Chicken Wing Dilemma. It will cover these topics:

  • Demographic of chicken wing buyers – bone-in vs. boneless
  • How often they purchase wings
  • Loyalty to a wing-type
  • When wings are purchased – time of day, day of week, seasonality
  • Other items purchased with an order of wings
  • Trend in chicken wing pricing
  • Flavor detail: Buffalo Wild Wings vs. Wingstop