Applebee’s is ringing up hundreds of thousands of dollars in new sales a week for wings made in the chain’s kitchens. But the Cheetos-coated chicken isn’t sold in its actual restaurants or directly under its name.
The new dish made by Applebee’s cooks is only offered for online delivery nationwide through Uber Eats and under the brand Cosmic Wings. The wings, developed with PepsiCo Inc.’s Frito-Lay division, are aimed at younger consumers who want late-night food that sounds cool, executives from the casual-dining chain said.
So-called virtual brands have mushroomed on food-delivery apps during the Covid-19 pandemic. Uber Technologies Inc.’s Eats division said it has more than 10,000 brands on its U.S. platform, up from more than 3,000 at the start of 2019—most of them run by existing restaurants. DoorDash Inc. said it has added many online-only brands in the past year. Casual-dining chains have used them to try to attract new customers less interested in their vintage parent brands.
“To make an impression, you have to be original and fresh,” said John Peyton, chief executive officer of Applebee’s parent, Dine Brands Global Inc. Cosmic Wings has done better than another online-only wings brand tested by Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar under its own name, he said.
Local sandwich shops, major chains and Michelin-starred chefs are cooking up online-only brands from their kitchens, tapping existing staff, equipment and food to broaden delivery options as the health crisis brought a year of restrictions to their dining rooms. The virtual brands also provide a low-cost way for restaurants to try to boost sales without building new spaces.