Fast-food chains try a lot of things. Most of them fail.
Some of them come and go without getting that much attention, while others become punchlines for decades. McDonald’s (MCD) – Get McDonald’s Corporation Report, for example, once offered Fish McBites, a fish-based take on the Chicken McNugget.
That one barely made a ripple and it’s consigned in history next to forgotten Filet-O-Fish mascot, Phil A. O’Fish. McDonald’s also had some very loud failures like the McDLT, a heavily hyped sandwich served in a two-sided styrofoam container designed to keep the “cool side cool, and the hot side hot.”
McDLT, however, came out at the height of the controversy over styrofoam packaging. It was likely never a good idea, but it was doomed from the start.
Burger King, a Restaurant Brands International (QSR) – Get Restaurant Brands International Inc Report, company has not been immune from failure. It had a huge national ad campaign in 2013 for Satisfries, a healthier take on the french fry. That one, as you might imagine, landed with a thud because health and french fry don’t really go together.
One recent failure, however, stands above all others and Burger King has quietly tried to succeed where McDonald’s failed.
Remember the McDonald’s Mighty WIngs?
Chicken wings seem like fast food. Yum! Brands (YUM) – Get Yum! Brands, Inc. Report Taco Bell actually added them to their menu recently, but, it wasn’t an attempt at a new long-term success. It was a one-week stunt designed to get a lot of publicity and bring people into the chain.
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McDonald’s Mighty Wings weren’t that. They were supposed to become a new menu staple and the chain bought millions of pounds of chicken wings to meet the assumed demand.
The problem is that McDonald’s and Burger King are value plays for customers. People go to those chains not just for comforting, familiar, and delicious in a fast-food way. They also want a good value.
That’s not something McDonald’s could offer with Mighty Wings. It’s a problem caused by the incredible popularity of chicken wings. Once a scrap product, wings have become a beloved menu item offered pretty much everywhere. That has driven up the price of wings to the point that chains have added chicken thighs to their menus and tried to incentivize customers to buy boneless wings (which are from the chicken breast and are not wings at all).
Even with its high buying power, McDonald’s had to charge roughly $1 per wing. That’s about four-and-a-half wings for the same price as a ten-piece McNuggets. Few people wanted to pay that and McDonald’s got stuck with millions of pounds of unused wings as it quietly dropped Mighty Wings.
Burger King Tries Chicken Wings
Fast-food chains often try menu items outside the U.S. as a way to test them away from prying media and heavy scrutiny. Many overseas menu initiatives never make it to a U.S. menu. Sometimes that’s because tastes vary around the world, and what works in Japan or France might not make sense in America.
Burger King India, however, has quietly been offering chicken wings in 2, 4, and 10-pieces packs. The two-piece costs about $1.04, while, the 4-pack comes in at $1.95, and the ten-piece sells for $4.57.
All prices are subject to exchange rates varying, but that’s about half the price Mighty Wings sold for. The difference may be because Burger King offering 2 and 4-piece wing deals appears to be an attempt to sell chicken wings as a side dish, an add-on to a meal that includes a higher-margin sandwich and fries. That could make wings a more logical offering for Burger King, at least in India.
Chicken wings cost too much at the moment to be a mass-market item for one of the big U.S. fast-food burger chains. There are simply too many chains fully devoted to selling wings for the popular item to be a side project for chains built around burgers and other sandwiches.