National Football League fans convene in downtown Tampa ahead of Super Bowl LV during the COVID-19 pandemic on January 30, 2021 in Tampa, Florida.
Octavio Jones | Getty Images
Super Bowl Sunday is a big day for football — and restaurants.
But the chains that will likely benefit the most from feeding hungry fans have already seen their sales soar during the coronavirus pandemic.
Only Thanksgiving tops Super Bowl Sunday as the largest eating holiday, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The big game drew more than 100 million viewers last year. Non-football fans tune into the NFL championship for interesting commercials, an entertaining half-time show and the food spread at watch parties.
For Yum Brands’ Pizza Hut, Super Bowl Sunday is its busiest day of the year. Domino’s Pizza typically delivers about 2 million pies that day, up 30% from a typical Sunday. Fat Brands, which owns Hurricane Grill & Wings, Buffalo’s Cafe and Buffalo’s Express locations, sells half a million chicken wings on Super Bowl Sundays. For Wingstop, it ranks among its top five sales days annually.
Throughout the pandemic, pizza and chicken wings have been staples of Americans’ quarantine diet. Both are known for traveling well, and the categories’ biggest players have been working on making their food more convenient for years.
In its fourth quarter, Pizza Hut reported U.S. same-store sales growth of 8%. Domino’s has seen U.S. same-store sales growth hit double digits during its second and third quarters. And Wingstop, which was already outpacing the rest of the industry’s sales growth before the crisis, reported that its same-store sales soared 25% in the third quarter.
“If what we’ve just experienced over the past 12 months is any indication — beating the industry in sales — we expect that to continue this Sunday,” said Brian Gies, global chief marketing officer of Church’s Chicken.
Church’s Chicken, which serves chicken tenders and boneless wings, launched its Texas Tenders ‘N Shrimp meal in time for the Super Bowl this year to capitalize on that demand. The menu item was created to appeal to customers who observe Lent, which doesn’t start until Feb. 17.
Wingstop CEO Charlie Morrison said through a spokesperson that the company is still expecting strong sales for the big game. Compared with years past, however, the chicken wing chain may receive more orders and a lower average check because of the reduced size of gatherings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended minimizing the guest lists for watch parties and holding celebrations outdoors or virtually.
“I think it’s going to be a very big weekend for us, and I think that sales will be off the charts,” said Fat Brands CEO Andy Wiederhorn.
The pandemic has also resulted in supply chain challenges for the restaurant companies awaiting a busy Super Bowl. Prices for mozzarella cheese are up, which will hit pizza chains’ profits. For the first week of February, Wisconsin wholesale prices for a pound of mozzarella cheese rose as high as $2.70, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture report released Wednesday. In February 2019, mozzarella prices averaged about $2.15 per pound.
Chicken wing chains are under even more pressure. Wholesale prices are up, and restaurant operators are reporting shortages.
Wiederhorn said that the company usually sees a tight supply this time of year anyway.
“The only time it wasn’t a battle was when McDonald’s entered the chicken wing business, like seven or eight years ago, and it failed miserably. They dumped all of the wings on the market because they had to get rid of them,” Wiederhorn said.
As a result, Fat Brands starts planning its Super Bowl wing orders a year in advance. But the supply problem is particularly bad this year, as a result of outbreaks at meat processing plants and higher demand for chicken wings driven by elevated delivery sales for the category. Fat Brands is bringing in some frozen chicken wings to supplement its usual supply of fresh wings.