Buffalo Wild Wings Approaches Fast-Casual Industry Growth

Buffalo Wild Wings is delivering some very impressive growth for a casual-dining chain, almost rivaling fast-casual restaurant operators like Chipotle Mexican Grill.

May 5, 2014 at 4:00PM

Much of the financial reporting on the restaurant industry these days is focused on the fast-casual dining concept. Indeed, many fast-casual restaurant chains such as Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG) are delivering fantastic growth, easily outpacing their casual-dining counterparts. However, it may be too early to count out casual dining, as there is one company that is still seeing mouthwatering earnings and revenue growth. Let's take a look at Buffalo Wild Wings' (NASDAQ:BWLD) latest earnings report and what the company is doing to sustain this growth.


Source: Buffalo Wild Wings.

Sizzling sales
Buffalo Wild Wings' first-quarter earnings were a resounding success. Earnings of $1.49 per diluted share easily beat the $1.35 consensus estimate, and net earnings were up a whopping 73% year over year. Revenue growth also beat estimates, up 21% to $368 million. Same-store sales increased by 6.6% at company-owned restaurants and 5% at franchised locations. These are some huge figures for a casual-dining chain.

These results were aided in part by a 440-basis-point drop in cost of sales, largely due to lower prices for chicken wings and the transition to selling wings by the portion instead of by number. The company also received a boost from the Winter Olympics, as many customers decided to watch the games while enjoying some wings and a beer. Next quarter, management is expecting a lift from major events such as the NBA and NHL playoffs as well as the FIFA soccer World Cup starting in June.

What's interesting about these results is that they're coming close to the spectacular growth delivered by fast-casual chains. Let's take Chipotle Mexican Grill as an example. While Chipotle is posting considerably higher same-restaurant sales growth, up by 13.4% for its first-quarter report, overall revenue growth was not much higher than Buffalo's at 24.4%. Earnings growth was in fact much lower, with net income increasing by "only" 8.5%. Moreover, the company is facing rising food costs, which could eat into the bottom line going forward.

Hungry for growth
Despite these formidable growth figures, management is looking for ways to propel earnings even higher. One way in which the company is looking to do this is by technological innovation: namely, tabletop tablets now in service at around 200 company-owned and 55 franchised locations, which can be used to play games while you wait for your food. The company is also testing a pay-at-your-table system as well as a hand-held server system that can be used to send orders to the kitchen.

Buffalo Wild Wings is also looking to get a foothold in the fast-casual market. The company is currently stepping up its investment in fast-casual pizza chain PizzaRev. With only eight locations at the moment, and plans to open another seven in 2014, the tiny chain has plenty of room to grow. According to Buffalo's management, pizza has the potential to be the fastest-growing fast-casual category. The company is planning to build up a number of emerging brands and has a long-term goal of opening some 900 emerging-brand locations.

The bottom line
Judging by Buffalo Wild Wings' most recent results, it's too early to count out the casual-dining segment of the restaurant industry. The company is generating revenue and earnings growth that is on par with some fast-casual competitors and moreover is looking to expand into the fast-casual market itself. With new technological innovations, the future looks bright for this fast-growing restaurant chain.

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Daniel James has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Buffalo Wild Wings and Chipotle Mexican Grill. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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