With chicken wings in short supply and prices rising, Wingstop said Monday it is “hacking” its own brand by launching Thighstop, a virtual restaurant that will serve up crispy chicken thighs.
Like the original Wingstop, customers can pick one of 11 flavors and opt for either a bone-in or boneless thigh. The new brand will be available for delivery or carryout in 1,400 locations nationwide via DoorDash or on Thighstop.com, the company said.
Chicken wings grew in popularity during the pandemic for both dine-in and take out customers. But diners are now staring down both price hikes and tight supplies. Port delays and labor shortages have resulted in scarce supplies for a range of goods from computer chips to chlorine tablets.
The National Chicken Council hasn’t called the tightening supply of chicken a “shortage,” but told CNBC via a recent email that the number of broiler chickens raised for meat fell 4% in the first quarter, and pounds produced were down 3% year over year. Production was picking up in April, the council said.
But as of last week, chicken wing prices were $2.72 per pound on average, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is nearly 20 cents higher than the same week last year.
Key chicken-producing regions were hit with a major winter storm in Texas right after the Super Bowl, impacting availability, said Tom Super, the council’s senior vice president of communications.
“Even small gaps in the supply of wings can cause big fluctuations in price,” he said.
In the spring, Wingstop CEO Charlie Morrison said the company planned ahead and would be able to meet its demand.
“The pandemic has caused challenges to be able to staff plants to be able to slaughter enough chickens to be able to meet the demands of the marketplace. And I think that’s seen everywhere. I mean, the price of chicken across the board is high, especially high for wings,” Morrison said at the time.
Papa John’s CEO Rob Lynch also mentioned labor as a factor in the tight supplies of wings, in an interview with CNBC.
Morrison is positioning the new strategy as an opportunity.
“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,” he said in a statement.
Programming note: Thighstop CEO Charlie Morrison will join CNBC’s “The Exchange” at 1:30 ET on Monday.