Why Pei Wei Brought Wings Back to the Menu
Pei Wei has sold chicken wings before, in 2017, but they became too operationally complex and time-consuming to execute. But, as the menu offering remains wildly popular for American consumers, the company tried again, testing a honey Sriracha wings offering over the summer. The test was a wild success, inspiring Pei Wei to experiment again with wings in new flavors and sizes.
“In just a few short weeks, honey Sriracha wings became a top four shareable, outselling mainstays like our Chinese egg rolls and chicken dumplings. The new wing protein allowed us to reach new segments for wing enthusiasts,” said Brian Dreeland, director of marketing.
And so, this week the company launched four new permanent, bone-in, wok-fired wings flavors – honey Sriracha, sticky, mango habanero, and spicy Korean BBQ. They’ll be available as a six-count for $8.99, a 12-count for $17.89, and 24-count for $35.89. To make room on the menu for the new wings platform, Pei Wei will remove its Dan Dan Noodles, Thai Cashew chicken, House Special Chicken, and Thai Dynamite Chicken.
The wings category is somewhat crowded, with competition from traditional players like Wingstop and Buffalo Wild Wings to pizza players like Domino’s and Pizza Hut and into QSR with KFC, Popeyes and Arby’s. According to Technomic Ignite data, over 44% of operators have wings on their menu. This is compared to 42.9% in 2018. Dreeland acknowledges the competitive environment for wings, noting that Pei Wei will differentiate itself through its signature sauces.
“Pei Wei has one of the largest varieties of bold and flavorful sauces in the industry,” Dreeland said. “Pairing these amazing signature flavors on wings will give wing enthusiasts and Pei Wei fans alike a new way to enjoy wings with an Asian twist.”
That twist could also serve as an advantage. Asian cuisine has experienced staggering demand and growth throughout the past several years and, according to the newly released What’s Hot 2024 Culinary Forecast, from the National Restaurant Association, global-inspired chicken wings are the No. 2 trend predicted for the new year.
As such, expectations are high. Dreeland said the company expects guests to continue to add six-count wings as a companion piece to their entrees and adding larger quantities as an a la carte item.
“Our larger wing sizes will drive a higher check average while accommodating larger group. Pei Wei serves a lot of families and groups,” Dreeland said.
Pei Wei is pulling out all the stops to promote its return to the wings conversation, pulling in social media influencers in its core markets to complement a broader marketing strategy. The company expects this approach to increase engagement and help drive higher sales.
“Influencers have a unique way of breaking through to the segments of guests that we may not otherwise have the opportunity to reach,” Dreeland said. “We have connected with large influencers who have amazing rapport with their followers. We’re excited for them to try our new wings and share their experience with fans in their own voice.”
Such authenticity is table stakes for younger consumers, and over 40% of Gen Z consumers have made a purchase decision based on a recommendation from a social media influencer.