Just wing it!

June 16, 2005

If the reason you are not selling wings from your pizzeria is because you believe the trend may have peaked, think again.

According to the National Chicken Council's Web site, in 2004 alone approximately 10.5 billion chicken wings were produced. Of those, 7 billion wings were sold through foodservice channels. Another 3.5 billion wings were sold in retail grocery stores.

According to NCC spokesman Richard Lobb, the market for wings really took off in the early 1990s, "and it's been on fire ever since." Back then, he added, wings sales surpassed even boneless breasts, then an industry first.

Thanks to low-carb diets and, well, the fact that wings taste so good, the NCC expects their consumption numbers to fly even higher for the foreseeable future.

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The only wings Jess Slade, owner of the PizzaMart in Mesa, Ariz., sold for several years were hot wings, but customer demand led him recently to add barbecue wings to the menu. The move was a good one.

"They're selling well so far," said Slade, who sauces his wings after they're cooked. "The hot-and-spicy ones are still the most popular, but both are pulling sales, and that's good."

Casey Exley, general manager of a Peter Piper Pizza store in Las Vegas, estimated the sale of his only flavor, hot and spicy, accounts for 15 percent of his total store sales. Most of those sales, he added, come piggybacked onto meal deals.

"Most of the wings we sell are sold with pizzas, compared to those sold alone, which account for less than 1 percent of sales," Exley said.

Convenience and safety

Years ago, Slade bought and prepared raw chicken wings, which left him a bit concerned about food safety risks. So when he found a supplier of fully cooked wings designed for quick reheating, he checked into it.

"When we saw that we had the chance to switch, that's what we did because it's so convenient for us," he said. "To eliminate the hazards of raw wings is a big thing for us. Plus, you don't have to use a fryer, which makes it safer. We use a conveyor oven, so there's no (open cooking) chamber an employee can get into."

Michael Lazarus, director of marketing and sales support for Chicago-based Koch Foods, said much of his company's chicken-products line is designed for operators like Slade, who desire ease of use.

"These products are easily used in operations with limited equipment, like pizzerias," Lazarus said. "Since it's a fully cooked product, it can be done in a regular pizza oven without any other equipment necessary. You don't need a fryer or a microwave." Lazarus said Koch wings are produced to cook at about the same rate as a pizza takes to bake.

Like the NCC, Lazarus also expects wing sales to continue rising. Based on research he's seen, sales of finger foods overall are projected to climb steadily well into the future.

For operators seeking to boost their present wings sales, Lazarus suggests they create something unique.

"We have an oven-roasted wing that allows a pizza guy to put his own signature sauce on it," he said. "We have several different flavors, but there are people out there who want to make it their own."

Topics: Operations Management

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