Boneless wings are one of those food items customers may not have even known they wanted at first, but these breaded, boneless pieces of chicken breast have turned into a finger-food success story for restaurants.
In fact, according to Technomic’s 2015 Starters, Small Plates and Sides Consumer Trends Report, consumers actually showed a preference for boneless wings as an appetizer or small plate versus traditional bone-in wings. Overall, 39% of survey respondents said they would order boneless Buffalo wings at least occasionally, compared with 33% who’d pick bone-in Buffalo wings. The spread was particularly significant for the all-important 18- to 34-year-old set: 48% of this cohort preferred the boneless version to bone-in, at 35%.
“When we first started calling our chicken tenders ‘boneless wings,’ our customers wondered how you even got a wing to be boneless,” admits Sean Greenberg, co-founder of Pluckers, an 18-unit wing specialist based in Austin, Texas. “But boneless wings were appearing on other menus and we figured it was time. The product and presentation are the same as they ever were, but it’s good shtick to emphasize our core wing product.”
Using boneless product also helps to stabilize costs and ensure a steady supply in the high-demand area of chicken wings. “You can grow chickens bigger, but they still only have two wings,” notes Greenberg. “And chicken wings were becoming so popular that demand and prices were going through the roof.”
About 30% of Pluckers’ wing sales are represented by the boneless product, and this does not split along age or gender lines, as far as Greenberg can tell. “The delineation is between customers who enjoy getting down and dirty and gnawing on bones, and those that want more of a knife and fork experience. There are also customers who just don’t like the notion of bones.” And the same customer might have bone-in wings for a more casual experience, but pick the boneless style when they don’t want to get sauce on their tie, he adds.
The two styles also offer a somewhat different eating experience. Because the boneless wings are breaded, they tend to soak up the customer’s chosen sauce more readily than the bone-in wings, which offer more of a glazed experience. And with about three dozen different sauces—ranging from Lemon Pepper and three heat levels of Buffalo to Ginger Peach Sriracha and Korean-style Gochujang—there’s lots of room for experimentation.
Boneless chicken also represents a versatile ingredient for cross-utilization throughout the menu, including sandwiches and salads. On the Pregame Warm Up section of appetizers and snacks, the Buffalo Bites are a bite-sized version of the boneless wings, served with fries in the customer’s choice of sauce.
Growing interest in chicken across foodservice, coupled with increased demand for unique flavors and new preparations, bodes well for boneless wings, which adapt particularly well to appetizers, snacks and small plates. Once-exotic global specialties such as double-fried Korean fried chicken, spicy South African peri-peri chicken, Japanese chicken karaage, sticky Vietnamese chicken, and Chinese-style five-spice chicken can all be translated to boneless wings in a smaller-portion format that customers will take a chance on.
This post is sponsored by Pierce Chicken