Crowdsourcing flavors and launching new items based on a popular vote might seem a tricky venture, but in some cases the reward is worth the risk.
Wing Zone is a proponent of these less conventional methods. In 2013, the brand launched a Flavor Face-Off, which solicited submissions from its fan base. Some of the flavors have been hits, like the inaugural winner, Mango Fire, while others have proven more difficult to create, such as last year’s Jalapeño Cheddar.
“We really use the Flavor Face-Off to get the idea of what’s hot out there,” says Dan Corrigan, Wing Zone’s director of marketing.
These contests not only engage consumers through social media platforms, they also serve as R&D inspiration for menu development. From the entries, the Wing Zone team picks the top 32 and then fans vote in the style of a basketball bracket.
The first year saw 800 entries, which more than doubled in 2014 with 1,700 submissions. Corrigan thinks the Flavor Face-Off’s third annual run, which kicks off next week, will see an even greater amount of entries.
“While the winner is the one we try adamantly to find success with … we like having a vault of flavors,” he says. Last year’s winner, Jalapeño Cheddar, generated a great deal of buzz; Corrigan even says that a group of college students painted a bed sheet with the slogan, “Vote Jalapeño Cheddar!” Despite this popularity, creating a Jalapeño Cheddar wing proved difficult to create. The menu development team even tried a dry-rub method, but it still proved difficult to execute. Corrigan says the consistency lent itself better to burgers than wings.
“It’s not something that we’re going to abandon forever, but as we were trying to create that jalapeño flavor you do lose a bit of momentum going through different renditions,” Corrigan says. So far, he adds, no one has inquired as to why last year’s winner is not on the menu.
Despite these challenges, Wing Zone has been able to pluck other top flavor contenders from contest and create them in the kitchen. These unusual, but popular, flavors include Blueberry Barbecue, Hot Garlic Sriracha, Cinnamon Maple, and Baked Potato Blast.
This year’s Flavor Face-Off will kick off August 3. Since college students are among Wing Zone’s most engaged consumers, Corrigan says the company wanted to coincide this year’s contest with the start of the fall semester.
“People in the college market will generally go above and beyond and share it with their friends,” Corrigan says.
By Nicole Duncan