Wing It On!’s rise comes at a time when the wing category is gaining popularity because of its ease in the kitchen and portability. A host of virtual wing brands have surfaced during COVID to provide an extra revenue stream, including big-time players Chili’s and Applebee’s, which launched It’s Just Wings and Cosmic Wings, respectively. Both casual-dining brands rolled out virtual concepts to more than 1,000 stores nationwide.
Servings of chicken wings increased 7 percent in 2020, despite an 11 percent decline in traffic, according to the NPD Group. A record 1.42 billion wings were consumed over Super Bowl weekend, which is 2 percent more than 2019, according to the National Chicken Council’s annual Wing Report.
Ensero says it’s difficult to gauge right now how the influx of wing brands affected Wing It On!’s market share. He thinks the true analysis will be completed once the pandemic is over, most Americans are vaccinated, and the country returns closer to business as usual.
Personally, he doesn’t feel the saturation will affect Wing it On! too much because the brand always focused on serving an elevated wing. The company’s goal is to cook wings that are fresh, never frozen, and authentic to a true buffalo style experience—something Ensero says can’t be matched by all the virtual concepts.
He also points to the fact Wing It On! offers chicken sandwiches, another item that’s seen a monumental rise in the past year and a half.
“I just think there's always room for a best-in-class product,” Ensero says. “I mean, if you offer an excellent wing and you could do it with excellent customer service and a digital experience that's aligned with what customers are looking for, there’s always going to be room for that best-in-class product, and that's what we're relying on to get us through and put our heads above all the mediocrity.”
Increased competition and demand has contributed to a volatile market and notable bump in wing prices. This forced Wing It On! to look at other parts of the bird to sell. In January, the brand introduced crispy Thigh Wings.
“On top of that is the extraordinary demand from these new virtual wing brands that just popped up overnight,” Ensero says. “So there's a severe supply demand imbalance right now, and it seems to be that the linchpin is the COVID-19 pandemic. So people we're talking to are expecting the market to return to historical norms by midsummer if it all goes well. We have a great relationship with our food service distributor, Gordon Foods. We've heard that there's been shortages in the market, but because of our loyalty to our vendors, we haven't experienced any shortages throughout the pandemic.”