Chicken foodservice is innovating in a post-pandemic world, placing greater emphasis on virtual brands, shifting to thigh meat and new sauce flavors and focusing on ways to bring consumers back to restaurants.

“Some of the things that we plan do more of compared to pre-COVID include more drive-thru and using an app or a third-party site to order and we saw the chains reacting to that,” explained Kelley Bailie Fechner, director, customer solutions, Datassential, at the 2021 Chicken Marketing Summit.

When it comes to delivery, it’s not a surprise to see pizza, Chinese food and burgers top the list. However, chicken wings and fried chicken also did quite well, according to recent research from Datassential. 

Chicken wings give foodservice a chance to experiment

Operators can capitalize on the wings trend by experimenting with new flavors.

“Wings have been seen as a solid delivery-type item that holds up well for a long time,” Fechner said. “Chicken wings are very safe for consumers. They’re aware of what it is. They know what it is going to taste like. And then you have this ability to add sauces.”

When it comes to wing sauces, consumers expect mainstays like buffalo, bbq, hot, spicy, honey and mild. But they are also open to trying new flavors. Mango habanero, Korean, lemon pepper, Carolina and buttermilk are the kinds of flavors that are beginning to grow in popularity.

Wings shine in virtual brands

2020 saw an explosion in virtual brands and ghost kitchens, with everyone from Bloomin’ Brands to Brinker International getting in on chicken wing delivery options.

Awareness of these delivery-oriented brands has shown significant growth over the past year. In October 2020, only 35% of consumers surveyed knew what a virtual brand was compared to 50% in March 2021.

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“Males and millennials are the above average consumers for virtual brands to date, but we do not envision these things going away,” said Fechner.

Chicken sandwich wars continue

Fried chicken sandwiches remain popular with consumers following the 2019 chicken sandwich wars with new offerings continuing to enter the market every day.

“If we look at January through June 2021, we’ve already seen 95 new entries,” an average of 3.8 new chicken sandwiches introduced each week, Fechner explained. “We thought in 2019 that this was the chicken sandwich wars and when would see that come to an end. We haven’t seen that end yet.”

Getting wise to chicken thighs

“With the chicken shortages [earlier this year], we started to see some changes and the chicken thigh began to come into play,” Fechner added.

In June 2021, Wingstop introduced Thighstop, a virtual brand focused on chicken thighs, in response to rising prices and shortages of wings throughout the U.S. Trials of bone-in thighs began last fall after the fast casual brand realized that purchasing whole chickens could help save money.

Attend the 2022 Chicken Marketing Summit

The 2022 Chicken Marketing Summit will be held at Chateau Elan in Braselton, Georgia on July 25-2724-26. Serving a unique cross section of the chicken supply chain, Chicken Marketing Summit explores issues and trends in food marketing and consumer chicken consumption patterns and purchasing behavior.
 
For more information and to attend, visit: www.wattglobalmedia.com/chickenmarketingsummit/.

View our continuing coverage of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.

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