Food Market brings news, talk and insight into the food business, from farms to supermarkets to restaurants. Reporters Mike Hughlett and Tom Meersman delve into the work of Minnesota’s food companies and issues such as food safety and labeling.

Buffalo Wild Wings looks at a China play

Posted by: Mike Hughlett Updated: June 3, 2014 - 2:23 PM

Buffalo Wild Wings recently sent a team of employees to China -- along with University of Minnesota business students -- to assess that market’s viability.

The Golden Valley-based company partnered with the U of M’s Carlson School of Management, Wild Wings CEO Sally Smith said in a speech Tuesday at the McNamara Alumni Center. Her appearance was part of the Carlson School’s First Tuesday speakers’ series.

The team is back in the Twin Cities and is now assessing whether the Wild Wings concept would work in China during the next five years, Smith said. The Carlson School has sent students abroad on such market assessments with other Minnesota companies, too.

There’s no doubt chicken can work in China; KFC is the biggest restaurant chain there. Wild Wings, however, has a different concept: casual sit-down dining with a wings, beer and sports motif.

Wild Wings has been one of the biggest success stories in the U.S. restaurant industry in recent years, and Smith’s speech drew loud applause.

She touched on several subjects, including – in response to an audience question – which Wild Wings markets posted the highest per-store revenues and profits.  Stores in California and Washington were singled out for the former.

 But the costs of doing business are higher in those states, too.  The Midwest is where profitability is highest, particularly Minnesota’s southern neighbor. “Iowa is extremely profitable for us,” Smith said.

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