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This Is America's #1 Chicken Wing Chain Right Now

The digital-forward brand saw major growth in sales and restaurant units.

Although the pandemic has hurt many businesses, particularly restaurants, one brand has managed to build an empire of chicken wings.

WingStop made $2 billion in sales in 2020, which translates to incredible systemwide growth of 28.8%. The restaurant also saw an 11% increase in newly opened stores as it had 153 net new stores open over the last year, while 700 additional locations are currently in development.

So how did WingStop reach such heights in both sales and unit growth during an unprecedentedly difficult year? Digital sales. (Related: McDonald's Is Making These 8 Major Upgrades.)

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant chain made about 40% of its sales through digital channels. As such, it already had a well-built system that was equipped to handle a sudden increase in digital sales. When lockdowns effectively eliminated on-premise dining, customers increasingly turned to pickup and delivery options through online ordering. For restaurants that weren't already invested in digital platforms, the impact was nothing short of catastrophic.

But it proved beneficial to WingStop, which now sees nearly 63% of its sales coming through digitally. The brand has millions of digital customers, and it plans to hone in on these digital users through targeted marketing in 2021.

WingStop's other long-term goal is to reach 3,000 national stores and 6,000 global stores; it currently has 1,327 stores in the U.S. and 1,538 worldwide, according to Restaurant Business.

While it holds the crown as the No. 1 chicken wing chain restaurant, WingStop will continue facing challenges to its title. Its numerous competitors are selling wings at lower prices, which is actually driving up the demand, and cost, of chicken wings. The supplier price for chicken wings is now at $2.65 per pound, up from $1.81 per pound a year ago.

Are chicken wings the new toilet paper of these strange pandemic times? If WingStop's explosive growth and the rising cost of chicken wings are anything to go by, you might have a harder time getting your hands on some. Or at least be prepared to pay a hefty fee for those sweet, sweet (or spicy) wings.

For more on fast-food trends, check out 6 Most Anticipated Fast-Food Menu Items Launching This Year, and don't forget to sign up for our newsletter to get the latest restaurant news delivered straight to your inbox.

Paige Bennett
Paige is a Los Angeles-based editor and freelance writer. In addition to writing for Eat This, Not That!, she works as the content editor for Inhabitat. Read more