The people of “Wingstop” had a problem. Their value proposition was predicated on the idea of getting delicious chicken wings to their customers. In fact, their name proclaimed it. However, a three-pronged perfect storm hit them hard. Disrupted production due to a record climate change-fueled cold snap in Texas (where a majority of the nation’s chicken comes from) combined with pandemic related labor shortages and the increased desire of people, stuck in their homes, for comfort food take out, have resulted in wing prices soaring.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a 29% reduction in November of 2020 and a 24% reduction in December in year-over-year inventories of chicken wings kept in cold storage. Stores are dwindling and no one can keep them in stock. In interview with CNN Business, Charlie Morrison, Chairman and CEO of Wingstop Restaurants Inc., said, “The [wholesale] price of wings a year ago was as low as 98 cents,” per pound. “Today, it’s at $3.22. So it’s a meaningful difference.”
With necessity being the mother of invention, WingStop came up with a radical idea: Thighs. They have effectively (for the time being) changed their name to ThighStop as part of a digital campaign for selling bone in thighs to try to appease their customers hunger for chicken.
Thighs, says Morrison, are much less expensive, making them an item that will diversify their sales possibilities.
While the company still is selling chicken wings, their proposition now is that by getting at least some of their customers to purchase thighs, it will take the heat off of their lowered wing reserves in order to mitigate the pricing hit. Further, their secondary goal may be to forever change the American perception of dark meat chicken. While this might seem like a daunting prospect, precedent shows how anyone’s minds can be changed under the right circumstances.
Prior to World War II Americans didn’t eat much chicken at all. The idea of chicken for meat was part of the war effort to ration beef and (as today) scarcity led that effort. Today, US chicken eaters have, in general, preferred white meat chicken, however, there isn’t really a solid reason for that aesthetic choice. The debate as to whether white meat is in fact “healthier” is not actually resolved. Some believe that white meat chicken was foisted on Americans under the guise of health, when in fact, it was just an easier cut of meat to process, making distribution and cooking simpler. And, not to mention, that the chicken wing was not a desirable piece of meat until the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York found a palatable way to serve them. Dark meat, traditionally has been exported, but with exporting processes disrupted, the idea of changing the perception of dark meat is one that Thighstop, and probably the chicken industry in general, is literally banking on.
Played perfectly, with information surrounding sustainability, flavor, and subtle pricing changes (you get more thigh meat for $12.99 currently than Wings for a slightly more expensive $13.29 at your local Thighstop) they might be onto something revolutionary.
The verdict on this is not yet in and changing perception in something as deeply ingrained as a preference for white meat chicken might seem like steering an aircraft carrier, however, Thighstop teaches a branding lesson, whether it leads to success or is ultimately a failure. Bold, plausible solutions, geared toward both short-term and long-term gains, are worth trying if it means satisfying your demographic’s needs, in this case, for chicken. Rebrands are often in response to something relatively catastrophic, having to do with a change in industry or environment, or sometimes (as with a recent Facebook announcement) in concert with a reputation hit. If your company faces a similar issue, with an eye on the horizon, Thighstop might hold the key to your next rebrand.
WHAT DO YOU THINK:
Given Wingstop’s circumstances, is Thighstop a change that will pay off, even if it’s just a temporary change?
Do you think it’s possible to change American hearts and minds toward dark meat chicken? Can you think of a time when Americans were driven to try something new or something they traditionally thought was undesirable and it became a big hit ?(I think of the rule that’s supposedly still on Boston’s books that prisoners are not allowed to be fed Lobster every day, because once it was thought of as a punishment). What is the prison lobster of today that might become a delicacy, with some good marketing?
Aliciavikander. (2021, May 1). Chicken shortage facing the United States: Poultry shortage is imminent due to increased demand and supply chain disruption. New York Latest News. Retrieved October 23, 2021, from https://newyorklatestnews.com/chicken-shortage-facing-the-united-states-poultry-shortage-is-imminent-due-to-increased-demand-and-supply-chain-disruption/168615/.
Jitchotvisut, J. (2018, October 2). Dark Meat Chicken can actually be a healthier choice than white meat – here’s why you shouldn’t be afraid to order it. Business Insider. Retrieved October 23, 2021, from https://www.businessinsider.com/dark-vs-white-meat-chicken-2018-10.
Wiener-Bronner, D. (2021, June 21). There’s a chicken wing shortage. so this chain wants you to start loving thighs. CNN. Retrieved October 23, 2021, from https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/21/business/chicken-thighs-wingstop/index.html.
Wingstop. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2021, from https://www.wingstop.com/.