National chain Wingstop is testing thighs as wings become the priciest they've been in a decade.

By Mike Pomranz
November 04, 2020
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The chicken wing market has been a mess for some time. Three years ago, we were already discussing the underlying issue: The popularity of chicken wings has grown, but as for the chickens themselves, they only have two wings; they can’t grow any more. As a result, despite significant price fluctuations over the past decade, prices have once again peaked, with Bloomberg reporting that wholesale wing prices in the Northeast are the highest they’ve been since at least 2010.

Credit: Daniel Boczarski / Stringer/Getty Images

Back in 2017, Buffalo Wild Wings was hoping to dodge that year’s spike by encouraging customers to opt for boneless “wings.” But in 2020, the chain Wingstop is trying a different tactic: pushing people towards bone-in chicken thighs.

During the wing chain’s latest earnings call this week, CEO Charles Morrison explained the recent decision to start trialing bone-in thighs alongside the brand’s classic bone-in wings and boneless wings in about seven markets. “Bone-in thighs offer the juicy meat and crispy skin but help us leverage more parts of the bird and can be tossed in our 11 bold distinctive flavors,” he was quoted as saying by Nation’s Restaurant News. “Our research suggests it will be a fan favorite…and we're excited for all Wingstop fans to get to try it soon.”

Admittedly, chicken thighs can be really tasty, especially for making the perfect chicken sandwich. And Morrison stressed the similarity of bone-in thighs to traditional wings—all the way down to the cooking time. That said, consumers’ interests are different than investors’ interests, so Morrison continually found himself playing both sides of the discussion. “We’ve said for a long time that it is our desire to use more parts of the bird in strategic ways to help mitigate the impact of bone-in wing price inflation, which we believe these [thighs] have the potential to do aside from the fact that they're just really, really good,” he added.

Regardless, Morrison also said they’ve already made a move on the economic side of things. “We recently negotiated a pricing mechanism with our largest poultry suppliers that mitigates the impact of continued inflation and bone-in chicken wings over the near term,” he stated. It’ll be interesting to see if other wing brands jump on board—and if the price of chicken thighs also goes through the roof.