Chicken chains claimed the top spot in terms of system sales growth in Nation’s Restaurant News “2012 Second 100 Census”  of restaurant chains. Chicken chains sailed into first place in terms of U.S. systemwide sales, with a 13.62-percent hike, aided by strong individual chain performances.  U.S. systemwide sales by fiscal year totaled $795.6 million, compared to the preceeding year with  $707.7 million in systemwide sales.

The top three chicken chains ranked by U.S. systemwide sales are Wingstop, Pollo Tropical Chicken on the Grill, and Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers.  Wingstop, based in Richardson, Texas, posted an 8.75-percent increase in systemwide sales during its latest fiscal year ending December 2011, while Pollo Tropical grew sales by 11.85 percent, and Raising Cane’s saw sales rise by 20.27 percent during the same period.

The top three chains all managed to augment U.S. systemwide sales by largely retaining a focus on improving what they already do well, rather than focusing on new product additions, according to company officials.  Although some menu innovations have been central to growth for some chicken chains, such as the boneless “wings” made from breast meat.  The boneless option enables chains to balance the volatility in the poultry commodities markets, Nation’s Restaurant News said.

Currently, boneless, skinless chicken breast is less expensive than bone-in skin-on wings, according to commodities  expert and Nation’s Restaurant News contributor John Barone, president of Market Vision, Inc.  With the current drought in the Midwest raising chicken-feed prices, wing prices are not coming down as they usually do in the summer, Barone said.