In the Kitchen
The saucy side
By Julie Fitz-Gerald
Here’s a chicken wing primer before the big game
By Julie Fitz-Gerald
For a small-fry, the popular chicken wing has made a big name for itself, enticing consumers with its crunchy, saucy goodness.
For a small-fry, the popular chicken wing has made a big name for itself, enticing consumers with its crunchy, saucy goodness. In the past, orders of crispy wings went hand in hand with a big sports game, but they have quickly become a year-round favourite.
|A Technomic poll says 36 per cent of the Top 500 U.S. restaurant chains offer wings.|
In March, 2012 U.S. food industry consulting firm Technomic, Inc. released a report detailing the rise in popularity of chicken wings. In its Category Close-Up: Wings report, Technomic found there is substantial innovation and room for growth in the wing category and that these fan favourites have become a year-round menu item for diners.
“Wings and sports have long been a winning combination – and more than 10 per cent of all wing-based limited-time offers are game-day promotions,” Technomic executive vice-president, Darren Tristano, notes in a press release. “However, wings’ overall appeal comes from their ability to suit consumers’ desire for customization, including traditional and global flavour options from sweet to super hot, and for portion flexibility, serving as snacks, starters, entrees and sides. And they are fun finger foods that are easy to share, so they lend a social aspect.”
The report also found that more and more restaurants are jumping on board the wing wagon, with 36 per cent of the Top 500 restaurant chains in the U.S. offering wings on their menus, a number that is growing year over year.
The famous “Buffalo wing” has come a long way from its birthplace: the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, N.Y. According to the National Chicken Council, in 1964 Teressa Bellissimo, who co-owned the Anchor Bar at the time, made her son and his friends a late-night snack by frying leftover chicken wings, tossing them in hot sauce and serving them with celery sticks and bleu cheese dip. The snack was such a hit that the Bellissimos added it to their bar menu the next day, much to the delight of customers. Realizing the gem they had created, Teressa’s son, Domenic Bellissimo, and Dick Winger, who sold hot sauce to the bar, went on the road promoting Buffalo wings and selling hot sauce to restaurateurs across the U.S. The popularity of the dish has continued to spread ever since.
In Canada, the market for chicken wings is also robust, with the Chicken Farmers of Canada estimating that Canadians consume approximately 77 million kilograms of chicken wings every year.
Consumer demand for wings in our sports-loving society surges on game days, most notably when the National Football League’s championship, the Super Bowl, is taking place. Pizza Pizza reported that in 2011 it sold over 200,000 chicken wings alongside 40,000 pizzas on Super Bowl Sunday alone. With Super Bowl XLVII taking place in New Orleans on Feb. 3, the timing has never been better to test run chicken wings in your pizzeria.
Offering chicken wings as an add-on to pizza orders can be a huge hit with your customers if done correctly. Andy and Dimi Pavlopoulos, co-owners of Tony’s Best Pizza & Wings in Lindsay, Ont., have made a success of this pairing at their popular establishment. When they bought the struggling pizzeria in January 2011, the chicken wings were being imported from Brazil and China. They were frozen and mediocre at best. This husband-and-wife duo immediately began sourcing fresh wings from local farms and settled on a chicken farm in southern Ontario that delivers the wings two days after their kill date, twice a week. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.
Today, Tony’s Best sells between 100 and 150 pounds of wings every week, sometimes more depending on championship game days. In 2011, the couple’s first year of owning the business, Tony’s Best received gold standings for best pizza and best chicken wings in Lindsay, as voted by readers of the local newspaper. Setting their wings apart from the rest is the secret flour blend that they’re tossed in prior to frying. “We hand toss them in our own secret flour mixture that we create ourselves. Nobody knows what’s in it, not even the staff,” Andy says.
Once dusted, the wings are deep fried to achieve the perfect crispy texture that consumers love. While many pizzerias offer baked wings instead of deep fried to avoid the cost associated with purchasing a deep fryer, Andy is adamant that there is only one way to go. “Deep fried is the only way that you’re going to get a crispy, Buffalo-style wing. When you go to certain places that bake them (and it takes at least one hour to bake a chicken wing from fresh to cooked) and you get them in 10 minutes they’re pre-cooked wings that have been warmed up, it’s the only feasible way. The fryer is the only way you’re going to get from a raw wing to a cooked wing in a short period of time.”
Once cooked to perfection, the wings are ready to be sauced, and the more choices, the better. Technomic noted that wing concepts in the U.S. offer an average of 18 different sauces for customers to choose from, with Buffalo sauces, particularly extra-hot versions, becoming increasingly popular. Tony’s Best offers more than a dozen types of wing sauces, but also allows customers to create their own. This flexibility for customer preferences is just part of their emphasis on customer service. “We have everything from mild to medium to Frank’s Hot, we have honey garlic, Cajun-special dry, honey mustard garlic and a variety of hot sauces that aren’t even on the menu. We have a lot of customers who are religious followers of our wings and they’ll create different concoctions by mixing sauces together. Because we make [our wings] fresh, we can let the customers create different mixtures; it’s easy for us to do.”
Andy and Dimi are in the midst of taking their chicken wings one step further by creating homemade sauces to replace the pre-made options that they currently offer. They will soon be taking their creations for a trial run with customers, gaining feedback to perfect the all-important step of matching the perfect sauces with the tastiest wings.
Andy notes that the last crucial step to chicken wing success is to market them! Decide what sets your wings apart from the flock and let customers know. “You have to market it. You can’t just say you’re going to add wings to your menu without going on a full marketing campaign. You have to let the people know that you have wings. Tell them how you make them and what you’re offering.”
Wings at Tony’s Best sell for $10.99 a pound. The Chicken Farmers of Canada estimate the average wholesale price for wings in 2012 will be between $5 and $5.10 a kilogram. With 100 to 150 pounds of wings being sold every week at Tony’s Best, they have become a great revenue-generating add-on for the business. With Super Bowl XLVII just around the corner, chicken wings could be a savvy way to generate more profits in your pizzeria as well.