For a time, the Texas-based brand struggled to source tequila, which had nothing to do with the available quantity of the spirit, but rather the glass and plastic bottles that housed it. So, Twin Peaks pivoted and told its operators to source whatever size of various alcohols they could instead of sticking to the usual bar bottles.
The meat of the matter
Although consumers have been less privy to these secondary supply chain issues, they’ve been attuned to other commodities, namely livestock and poultry, whose shortages even extended to the grocery aisle early in the pandemic. While these goods equalized somewhat by summer 2020, prices were still erratic, especially for beef and pork; costs soared amid the spring shortages only to bottom out in the fall when ranchers and meatpackers found themselves with a backlog from the earlier slowdown. The low prices were a boon to buyers—both consumers and retailers, including restaurants—but at the expense of producers who couldn’t recoup lost profits from earlier in the year.
Chicken, however, was and remains more complex. Not only was poultry subject to the same bottlenecks as livestock, production was also disrupted by harsh winter weather. All the while, consumer demand for wings soared, which could be partially chalked up to a desire for comfort foods in uncertain times. The limited nature of wings—only two per chicken—exacerbated other supply chain issues, creating the perfect storm this past spring.
“Chicken wing prices are sky-high. Until they start hatching more chicks, we’re going to have high wing prices,” Roso says.
As with most pandemic-related challenges, figuring out the chicken conundrum required some fancy footwork.
Florida-based Smokey Bones serves a variety of animal proteins, which granted it more wiggle room than specialized brands in the wing category. Still, smoked, bone-in chicken has been a menu cornerstone at Smokey Bones; the company even launched a chicken-specific virtual brand, The Wing Experience, along with another ghost concept, The Burger Experience, back in 2019. The Wing Experience serves 50 different flavors of wings and last November—even before the shortage began in earnest—it expanded its offerings to include boneless varieties. So going into 2020, Smokey Bones had sizable inventory orders to fill across its brands.
“We have never experienced this level of demand for chicken wings ever,” says CEO James O’Reilly. “It put more pressure on our supply chain, which led us into more frequent, constant conversations with our vendor partners, our distributors.”
When the wing supply began to ebb, Smokey Bones tried a number of different avenues. It sought different suppliers and tried buying whole birds rather than wings, but the most effective change involved rethinking the menu and dining experience.
Smokey Bones began sourcing and serving whole wings rather than just the drums and flats. O’Reilly says this menu addition opened the door to fun, educational moments with guests who may not have encountered whole wings before.
“We launched whole wings partly in response to the challenges we were seeing on the supply chain side, but also because we have a strong chicken wing business,” O’Reilly says. “The availability of the whole wing was greater at the time and is somewhat [still] greater because it requires less processing.”