Wingstop has found an answer to mitigating the chicken shortage—new virtual brand Thighstop.
The concept is available at more than 1,400 Wingstop kitchens through Thighstop.com and DoorDash. In addition to bone-in chicken thighs, Thighstop features breaded boneless thighs, which the company described as “a more juicy, flavorful take on Wingstop’s popular boneless wings.” Sides include ranch and blue cheese dips, fresh-cut seasoned fries, fried corn, and rolls. The menu items come with Wingstop's 11 classic flavors.
"Wingstop pioneered the concept of chicken wings as a center-of-the-plate item. Although Thighstop is in its infancy, we've been exploring bone-in and boneless thighs as center-of-the-plate options for some time now as a way to offer fans new ways to enjoy Wingstop's bold, distinctive and craveable flavors," said CEO Charlie Morrison said in a statement. "We're excited to bring Thighstop to the masses in a way that's familiar and convenient to consumers by providing the option of delivery or carryout through our delivery partner DoorDash."
The influx of chicken-based virtual brands and the labor shortage have led to a volatile chicken market and significant increase in chicken prices. Morrison told CNN Business that the wholesale price of wings in 2020 reached as low as 98 cents, but now it's $3.22. However, he noted that thighs costs about half of what wings cost per pound today, which means better margins.
Wingstop first revealed it was testing a bone-in chicken thigh product in late 2020. At the time, Morrison said it’s been the brand’s desire for a long time to “use more parts of the bird” in strategic ways to help mitigate the impact of bone-in wing price inflation. The product gained more momentum throughout 2021.
“We do have enough learning to be able to support what we believe is going to be a product for the future for the brand,” Morrison said in February. “Dark meat in general becomes a great opportunity, as well.”
According to CNN, Morrison believes dark meat will become a “big fan favorite for a long time to come." The CEO said buying more parts of the bird, not just breast meat for wings, will help Wingstop control more of the supply chain.
Wingstop isn’t the only one with this idea. Emerging brand Wing It On! introduced crispy Thigh Wings in January for the same reasons. CEO Matt Ensero said the new product “gives guests a way to enjoy a bone-in wing experience, but for a lower price point, and gives franchisees an opportunity to strengthen menu mix with a high-margin item.”
Additionally, Smokey Bones’ virtual brand The Wing Experience rolled out Whole Wings in late May. The bone-in product consists of a drumstick, flat, and wingtip, making them larger than the typical bone-in winger order, but with the same amount of meat. Smokey Bones said that its brick-and-mortar restaurants and virtual brand will continue to serve traditional wings, but warned “there may be times when they are unavailable due the shortage and the new Whole Wings will be a second option.”
KFC told operators in April to remove chicken tenders and Nashville Hot chicken items from online menus because of supply issues, the Wall Street Journal reported. Around the same timeframe, the 770-unit Bojangles revealed it was experiencing a shortage of Chicken Supremes.