What do you do if you are a chicken wing restaurant during a wing shortage? Apparently, you pick another part of the chicken. At least, that is what chicken wing brand Wingstop is doing — the chain announced on Monday (June 21) that it is launching a delivery- and takeout-only brand selling chicken thighs instead of wings. As one might expect, it is called Thighstop.
“Wingstop pioneered the concept of chicken wings as a center-of-the-plate item,” Charlie Morrison, chairman and CEO of Wingstop and Thighstop, said in a statement. “Although Thighstop is in its infancy, we’ve been exploring bone-in and boneless thighs as center-of-the-plate options for some time now as a way to offer fans new ways to enjoy Wingstop’s…flavors.” The restaurant’s menu includes bone-in thighs and breaded boneless thighs, as well as a few of the sides also available at Wingstop locations.
The launch comes as supply chain constraints set wing prices on the rise. In fact, some areas in the United States are seeing chicken wing prices nearly double. Some smaller restaurants have even been removing chicken wings from the menu, unable to find a price that would work for the restaurant, its suppliers and its customers.
“The [wholesale] price of wings a year ago was as low as 98 cents,” Morison told CNN Business. “Today, it’s at $3.22. So it’s a meaningful difference.”
While Wingstop referred to the chicken wing constraints as a shortage in the announcement of this new restaurant, the National Chicken Council begs to differ. “Wing supplies are tight, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say there is a ‘shortage,’” council spokesperson Tom Super said in a statement. He added that the tightening supply is largely the result of a winter storm in Texas and other states in the area, which are “major chicken-producing regions.” Still, he predicted, “It will take time and effort to eventually replace the impacted hatchery supply flocks in that region, but supply should catch back up to demand soon.”
Full-on shortage or not, the rise in chicken wing prices exacerbates the existing challenges in the space. Wings tend to be a fairly low-cost menu item, and they are a popular choice for online delivery orders, an already notoriously difficult channel when it comes to per-order profit margins. Of course, these challenges have proven to be more pressing for smaller restaurants than for a restaurant chain with 1,500+ locations such as Wingstop.
For virtual brand Thighstop, delivery orders will be fulfilled through exclusive partner DoorDash, while takeout orders can be placed through the restaurant’s site or through DoorDash’s. Morrison said that this partnership “bring[s] Thighstop to the masses in a way that’s familiar and convenient,” given customers’ existing comfort with DoorDash.
Wingstop is one of the restaurant industry’s leading providers of digital ordering options. PYMNTS’ latest ranking — which is based on loyalty and rewards program integrations, number of active users each month, average time users spend on the app and range of ordering options available — places the restaurant brand solidly in the top 10. The Wingstop app is tied for fourth place with Panera Bread and Chick-fil-A, and it ranks above Chipotle and McDonald’s.
The pivot to thighs with this new virtual brand marks another instance of Wingstop proving itself to be in step with the ever-changing demands of today’s restaurant industry.