Americans love chicken and sauces, and Buffalo Wild Wings Inc. (Nasdaq: BWLD) is happy to provide them -- the company sold a record 7.7 million chicken wings during this year's Super Bowl alone.
The casual restaurant chain, now based in Minneapolis, has taken advantage of the country's hunger to become one of the fastest-growing companies in the past three years. Buffalo Wild Wings had compound annual growth rate of 23 percent since 2008, making it No. 451 on the annual IBTimes1000 list, a proprietary compilation of the world's fastest growing publicly traded companies. Its 2011 revenue was $728 million, up from $392.5 million in 2008.
Buffalo Wild Wings was founded by two friends, Jim Disbrow and Scott Lowery. The Buffalo, N.Y., transplants opened their first restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, after they couldn't find their hometown snack in the area. The restaurant, originally called Buffalo Wild Wings & Weck -- the latter name from a special Kaiser roll -- catered to college students. It remains popular for its sports bar style, with each restaurant outfitted with numerous television screens.
Sally Smith joined the company as its CFO and became CEO in 1996, after Disbrow, an avid ice skater, departed to run the U.S. Figure Skating Association. He passed away in 2002 from brain cancer. The company went public in 2003 and has grown to more than 800 locations, opening its first Canadian store in May 2011.
The company had a strong first quarter of 2011, with revenue increasing by 37.9 percent to $251.1 million and same-store sales gaining 9.2 percent at company-owned stores and 7.3 percent at franchises. The brand has outperformed the overall restaurant industry, and its five-year growth forecast is 21 percent, outpacing industry giant McDonald's Corp. (NYSE: MCD)'s 10 percent and Yum! Brands Inc. (NYSE: YUM), owner of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, which expects 13 percent growth.
Smith told Bloomberg in February that the company is seeking to buy a smaller casual restaurant chain, likely through a combination of debt and cash. Possible candidates include Cosi Inc. (Nasdaq: COSI) or Denny's Corp. (Nasdaq: DENN). Buffalo Wild Wings also plans to expand to 1,500 locations in the next five to seven years.
One of the business concerns for the company is rising chicken prices, tied to last year's wet planting season, which cut into the production of corn, which is the major feed for livestock. According to the USDA, chicken prices were up 5.3 percent in May compared to the prior year. In response, Buffalo Wild Wings announced price increases of around 1 to 3 percent in an updated menu to be released in July.
But the company still expects net earnings growth of 20 percent in 2012, and investors are still bullish. Buffalo Wild Wing's stock has risen by 40.5 percent in the past 12 months to $83.68 on Thursday.