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Wingstop says its UK target market is Gen Zers who like boxing and 'Love Island.' Here's how the chicken brand is using TikTok, rappers, and customization to pull in younger diners.

Grace Dean   

Wingstop says its UK target market is Gen Zers who like boxing and 'Love Island.' Here's how the chicken brand is using TikTok, rappers, and customization to pull in younger diners.
  • Wingstop UK is using TikTok, social-media influencers, and rappers to attract Gen Z diners.
  • It's focused on youth culture. 70% of its sales come from diners aged between 16 and 34.

In April, Wingstop's flagship UK store – just a stone's throw from London's Covent Garden, the West End theater district, and one of the country's most-visited art galleries – played host to some of TikTok's emerging UK rap artists in a takeover by the social-media app.

The rappers performed at the restaurant and the show was streamed on TikTok – with Wingstop's chicken and fries scattered throughout.

It's all part of Wingstop's brand strategy for its UK business, which gets around 70% of its sales from Gen Zers and millennials aged between 16 and 34.

Wingstop's UK target market is young men who like boxing and the athleisure store JD Sports and young women who watch dating show "Love Island," execs at Lemon Pepper Holdings, the chain's master franchisee in the UK, told Insider. The chain is "leveraging youth culture," including music, sport, influencers, and TikTok, to create an image of a "Gen Z-esque aspirational lifestyle," Tom Grogan, one of Lemon Pepper's cofounders, said.

To appeal to this market, Lemon Pepper has collaborated with a range of brands that generally attract younger consumers, including Xbox, Gymshark, TikTok, JD Sports, Tinder, and fast-fashion retailer Pretty Little Thing. It made a series of videos with footwear retailer Foot Asylum, featuring the British influencers KSI, Chunkz, and Yung Filly taking part in a series of speed dates at a Wingstop restaurant. The first in the series, posted in 2019, has nine million views on YouTube.

Wingstop frequently gets hundreds of thousands of views on its TikTok videos, too.

Wingstop UK has also worked with rappers Michael Dapaah, Stormzy, and Lady Leisha. It curates its own playlists for its restaurants, hosts performances from artists and DJs, and has held meet-and-greet events with artists including M Huncho and Cat Burns.

Some influential figures with ties to sport, music, fashion, and social media have even been given so-called "Flavour Cards," which get them free wings. Grogan said that Wingstop UK did engage in some paid partnerships, but focused on "curating authentic experiences." The brand's reputation in the US has made conversations with UK talent "easier," he added.

The execs credited Wingstop's success in the UK to their efforts to engage with British youth culture.

When they brought Wingstop to the UK, they wanted to elevate the brand and remove its focus on combos and value deals, the execs said. They said that they positioned the UK brand as a premium QSR for chicken, above KFC but below Nando's and on the same level as Five Guys. The average order size is £13.50 (about $17) in store, and £21 (about $27) for takeout and delivery, they said.

Lemon Pepper opened the first Wingstop UK restaurant near London's bustling Leicester Square in 2018. The three co-founders – Grogan, Herman Sahota, and Saul Lewin – had reached out cold to Wingstop after hearing it mentioned in a Rick Ross rap.

Though they had no restaurant experience between them, they thought that the brand would fill a space in the UK market – and managed to convince the Wingstop execs of their vision, acquiring its master franchise rights for the UK.

In 2022, the chain sold more than 17.5 million wings, Lemon Pepper says. The business currently has around 1,300 employees and 40 staff in its head office.

Its menu doesn't differ much from the US one. It sells bone-in wings, boneless wings, tenders, and burgers with a choice of 10 flavors, the most popular being Spicy Korean Q and Hickory Smoked BBQ. The brand sells roughly the same number of boneless and bone-in wings, the execs said. Wings and fries make up 92% of its sales, they said.

"We're not trying to be a jack of all trades," Grogan said, adding that the brand was focused on "doing one thing and doing it well." But the execs said that the fact that diners can customize their meals by choosing their wing flavors and sauces appeals to Gen Z, a generation particularly attracted to personalization.

Wingstop currently has 20 restaurants in the UK. It targets cities with a strong student population including Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow, and has restaurants in some of the UK's biggest shopping malls. Dining at Wingstop is largely a social activity, and customers typically spend between 20 and 30 minutes in the restaurant in groups of between two and four diners, according to Lemon Pepper.

Wingstop also has 14 UK delivery-only ghost kitchens in a mix of city center and residential locations. Delivery makes up around a third of its UK orders, and it's partnered exclusively with Deliveroo.

Wingstop ranked 23rd in The Sunday Times Hundred 2023, a list of the UK's fastest-growing companies, which reported that it expects to reach more than £65 million ($84.5 million) in revenues this year.

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