The Wings & Rings booth had a steady line throughout the day, but it wasn’t close with the attention NBL CHK received. It was stunning, Matheson says, considering everything—the chicken, the cooking process—was the same except for the sauces. The sauces at Wings & Rings also gained little attention in the vote for fan favorite. Meanwhile the sauces at NBL CHK remained on the leaderboard all day.
In the end, NBL CHK’s Ghost Pepper Ranch topped the voting.
“We were watching it go back and forth, back and forth, and weren’t quite sure what was going to happen,” Matheson says. “And then at the very end, we had pulled it out.”
Wings & Rings didn’t hide NBL CHK’s true identity for long. After winning, the company revealed it was behind the two wing brands. Festival-goers were surprised and had mostly positive reactions, Matheson says. Throughout the day, the NBL CHK team handed out cards with a QR code, which guests could scan at the end of the event. The scan led consumers to the NBL CHK website, which was then redirected to the Wings & Rings page.
The festival offered the brand more feedback and insight than it normally gathers at one of its normal tests. It was a fun study in consumer psychology, Matheson says.
“It actually was a really great event for us,” she says. “Our hypothesis going in kind of played itself out that, you know, a name can mean everything and it comes with a certain perception. It was a good lesson learned.”
The demand for the winning sauce at the Cincinnati Wings & Rings location was so high, the brand is fast-tracking it to launch by the end of October. It will be rolling out to restaurants nationwide over the next few months.
Matheson says the brand plans to keep the NBL CHK brand in its back pocket. The marketing team is playing around with ways to leverage it in the future.
The new options featured at the festival reflect the changing flavor profile of the Wings & Rings menu.
Just like other cuisines, wings are evolving. Gone are the days where the menu will only feature classic flavors, Matheson says. The brand is introducing different creations, which are more adventurous and reflect global flavors.
“We’re always in this kind of wing innovation mode where we're looking at new ways to cook the chicken, new ways to hand-bread, new ways to bring in flavors, you name it,” Matheson says.
Chef Dan Admire, who has a fine-dining background, is leading menu development at Wings & Rings.
“We're not trying to be what we're not, but we are trying to within our category and what people are looking for,” Matheson says. “We're trying to break the paradigm that you can't get great food at a sports bar and restaurant.”
The tried-and-true flavors will remain on the menu, but new flavors will be introduced with more frequency, Matheson adds. Some of the new sauces will be quick, limited-time offers, while others will join the menu permanently.
The goal is to attract millennials and Gen Zers with a familiar product, but then push the boundaries when it comes to flavor, Matheson says.