- Wingstop launched a virtual restaurant brand called Thighstop on Monday through the brand's exclusive delivery partner, DoorDash, the company said in press release emailed to Restaurant Dive.
- The concept will operate inside 1,400 Wingstop locations and customers can order via Thighstop.com or DoorDash. Its menu offers bone-in and breaded boneless thighs tossed with Wingstop's 11 different flavors alongside the QSR's existing sides.
- As wing prices increase and competition in the wings space grows, Wingstop is using the virtual brand to encourage guests to try thighs. This strategy could cut down on food costs and potentially avoid wing supply issues amid a nationwide chicken shortage.
This virtual brand plays into Wingstop's digital strategy. In 2020, the company surpassed $1 billion in digital sales and has been finding innovative ways to reach customers, such as the addition of ghost kitchens. The company has over a dozen ghost kitchens across the globe with plans to eventually expand this model into key markets in the U.S. A chicken thigh brand could also help differentiate it from the plethora of digital chicken wing brands that chains like Bloomin', Brinker and Applebee's have launched in the last 18 months.
Instead of adding thighs to Wingstop's menu, the chain took the virtual restaurant route to better highlight the new item, the company said, adding that guests also appreciate the convenience of online ordering.
"As a tech-focused, platform brand, Wingstop is always focused on growing its fan base and increasing digital transactions," the company said in an email. "Thighstop will help the brand carry the digital momentum it experienced during the pandemic into the future."
Increased competition and demand has exacerbated the wings shortage, pushing many restaurants to rethink their menus. Even though Wingstop has formed a price mitigation strategy with its largest poultry suppliers, it still reported a year-over-year increase in prices of wings by 25.8%, CFO Michael Skipworth said during the company's Q1 2021 earnings call. Skipworth said the company expects wing prices to remain high during 2021 and anticipates food costs at its company-owned restaurants to be about 42% of its costs.
This is relatively low compared to what other operators are experiencing. One restaurant owner in New York said chicken wing prices at one supplier went up 99% since the farm is having trouble finding labor. A devastating winter storm in Texas and nearby states impacted major chicken production and contributed to the current chicken shortage as well. Demand for chicken wings has also risen among consumers during the pandemic, increasing 7%, according to Vox. Wings proved to be pandemic proof since they are easy to transport via takeout or delivery, according to USA Today.