Chicken wing franchises are now among the hottest in the quick-service restaurant industry. Currently, there are approximately 20 chains and all together they make up nearly 2,000 U.S. restaurants.  Add in independent wing restaurants, and the number of restaurants could double.  Chicken wing franchise units have grown at an average of 4.1 percent a year since 2008, outpacing burgers and frozen yogurt and the fast food industry as a whole, according to FranData research analyst Kate Zhang.

 Because of the low cost of wings, restaurants started using them in 1980s as an appetizer.  In the 1990s, restaurants turned wings into standalone meals and entrepreneurs saw the potential for growth.  “Our founders saw a great opportunity to capitalize on a product that was low-cost.  We’ve made our business from a fall-off product,” said Charlie Morrison, president of the Wingstop chain, which was founded in 1994.

Buffalo Wild Wings has 891 restaurants, with annual sales approaching $1 billion. Wingstop has grown from 90 units to 580 and almost all are franchised from its Richardson, Texas headquarters.  The company has an estimated $450 million in annual revenue.

Approximately 8.5 billion chickens were slaughtered last year.  Since some wings stay on the bird for whole rotisserie chicken, that leaves 13.5 billion wings sold individually.  Increased demand and expanding restaurant chains have driven up the wholesale price of a pound of wings by 25 percent between 2010 and 2012.