LANDOVER, Md. -- Self-service chicken wing bars, featuring assorted varieties of cold, cooked wings, have sprung up at some Giant Food supermarkets.
Varieties include teriyaki, barbecue, jerk seasoned, and two types of Buffalo wings -- spicy wing zings and mild wing dings. They were selling for $4.99 a pound the day SN visited a Giant unit in Bowie, Md.
Here, a newly installed, freestanding five-foot bar, stocked up with an assortment of wings, sits between the store's deli and dairy sections. The bar looks like a small version of a salad bar.
Bars give Giant another way to sell wings. Prepackaged cooked chicken, in various forms, is already a strong seller in the deli, said a store level source at the Bowie store.
"This gives customers an opportunity to pick the amount they want and the variety they want," they said. "If they want three pieces, they can do that."
Furnished by a supplier, the wings arrive at the stores cooked and frozen. "We defrost them," the store level source said.
The bars have been installed at some of Giant's larger stores, said the source, who didn't know how many units have them. This five-year-old store is 64,000 square feet, larger than Giant's typical 55,000-square-foot footprint.
Demographic data on chicken consumption suggests Giant is on the right track. According to industry research, chicken wings have a particularly strong following in the Northeast. A survey conducted in the summer of 2000 for the National Chicken Council, Washington, asked consumers which types of prepared chicken products they had eaten in the past three months. Respondents in the Northeast were more likely than those in other areas of the country to have eaten buffalo wings or spicy wings, the survey found.
The study also showed determined heavy consumers of chicken were more likely than light users to have eaten buffalo wings or spicy wings [see "Fresh Chicken Tops Pecking Order," SN, Oct. 2, 2000].
"The Atlantic Seaboard is the best chicken-consuming area in the U.S.," said Bill Roenigk, senior vice president of the NCC. "We know higher incomes, [as well as] people concerned about nutrition, are our better consumers."
Last year's survey for the NCC showed respondents with an income of over $50,000 were much more likely than the average household to have eaten a fresh dinner or entree featuring chicken, a chicken breast sandwich, buffalo wings or spicy wings and rotisserie chicken.
Meanwhile, respondents with an income of under $20,000 were much less likely to have eaten a chicken dinner or chicken entree compared to the overall survey sample.
While the arrival of self-service chicken bars in supermarkets bodes well for the poultry industry, and may boost sales without adding much labor cost to the supermarket's bottom line, managers must keep an eye on the bars to make them successful, Roenigk said.
"If store management doesn't constantly manage it, I can see in busy times the thing could get out of stock and a little messy and people could be turned off," he said.
Late last year, he observed another wing bar at a Giant unit in Annapolis, an upscale community. "My impression was that it looked like it had been well used and that the people managing the area were doing a good job of it," he said.
"I was surprised by the variety [of wings]," he said. "It's right in the section where people are looking for quick and hot to-go foods. The positioning was good."
Another supermarket chain, Giant Food Stores of Carlisle, Pa., singled out chicken wings for a self-service bar in the company's revamped deli format, which debuted at a replacement store that opened late last year in Hershey, Pa. The format is designed for stores in upscale markets. Giant Food of Landover, which has 179 stores, and Giant Food Stores of Carlisle, a 91-unit company, are both subsidiaries of Ahold USA.
"Wings are becoming much more popular in the supermarket but most of the time we see them as an added item or two in a deli as opposed to having their own special place," said Roenigk. "A wing bar is still somewhat unique. Will it be as prevalent as a salad bar? Let's hope so."