NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Beer and wing destination Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD) had its share price clipped by 9% in after-hours trading Tuesday, after reporting disappointing first quarter earnings as its labor and food costs spiked and sales growth slowed.
Investors are now left balancing a more moderate start to the year for the notoriously fast-growing restaurant chain with several new initiatives the company has launched to reignite sales and profits in the coming quarters.
Buffalo Wild Wings reported first quarter net sales of $440 million, falling shy of the $452 million that analysts were expecting. Earnings came in at $1.52 a share, compared with the $1.63 Wall Street was anticipating. The price of traditional chicken wings surged 41% to $1.92 per pound, while labor costs rose about 24%.
According to the company, the chain's sales were harmed by several developments. First, the "March Madness" Final Four basketball tournament fell on Easter weekend, which likely kept many sports fanatics at home with their families rather than dining out. Second, the tournament match ups weren't necessarily as exciting as a year ago. And, although not mentioning it specifically on the earnings call with analysts on Tuesday, poor weather in the Southeast and Northeast also probably kept folks indoors.
Red-hot burrito and salad bowl seller Chipotle (CMG), for example, saw Mother Nature temper its sales a bit, with first quarter same-store sales reduced by an estimated 1% to 2%, as customers decided not to venture outside. Chipotle also faced a shortage of "responsibly raised" pork, which cut into same-store sales.
"From our expectations, we were right on track where we thought we would be for the quarter and year," explained Buffalo Wild Wings President and CEO Sally J. Smith in an interview with TheStreet. Smith added, "We saw this year as our growth (earnings) being back-weighted to the second half of the year. We had strong same-store sales in the quarter. I think the Street's expectations (earnings) number was a little bit high, but I think where the Street was off was on same-store sales in almost every case for all of the restaurants that have been releasing (earnings)."
Smith added, "I think they saw some of the consumer confidence numbers, and our sales in February, and thought that would continue."
Sales at company owned and franchise operated Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants opened at least a year increased by 7% and 6%, respectively in the quarter. These sales results marked a slowdown from the pace the company experienced at the start of the quarter, when the collegiate football championship games drove strong interest in the wings. In the first five weeks of the quarter, Buffalo Wild Wings touted an increase in same-store sales at company owned and franchise locations that were up by 11.9% and 11.1%, respectively. This stoked investor anticipation for a solid conclusion to the quarter.
For its part, Buffalo Wild Wings executives believe the company had a "strong March Madness showing" from a sales perspective.
But, just as the wing price inflation caused some havoc to Buffalo Wild Wings costs in the first quarter, it may just as quickly become less of an issue.
Wing prices in the second quarter have increased only 25% year over year, compared with the 41% spike seen in the first quarter. These prices stand to abate even further later in the year, as a result of the company's new supply arrangement for its wings. In an effort to decrease volatility in the cost for its traditional chicken wings, which represent over 20% of the company's cost of sales, Buffalo Wild Wings earlier this year entered into a modified pricing agreement for about 66% of its chicken wings supply. The agreement was fully in place this month. Beginning in April, the new contracts narrow the per pound cost that the company pays when traditional wings are at historically high and low market prices -- thereby reducing the price volatility seen in the first quarter.
Buffalo Wild Wings also secured slightly lower pricing for its boneless wings, which became effective in April.
As wing costs subside, Buffalo Wild Wings could realize improved earnings growth as it raises menu prices. The company expects to increase its menu price by 3.8% in the second quarter, 3.5% in the third quarter, and 2% at the close the year. However, prices in the fourth quarter could jump more than 2%, because the company implements a "refreshed" menu in October. The refresh consists of efforts to keep the design of the menu visually appealing, and to introduce some new products.
In total, Buffalo Wild Wings expects earnings growth of 18% year over year for 2015, with a majority of the expansion occurring in the second half.
Investors also may be forgetting about the company's renewed efforts around lunch.
"We have always felt that lunch is a great opportunity for us. We've always had a loyal following for our lunches - but there have been some things we have missed over the years," said Buffalo Wild Wings Vice President of Food and Beverage Experience Todd Kronebusch in an Apr. 20 interview with TheStreet. After testing a lunch menu in 45 markets last year that centered on offering customers a variety, value and speed - key features that hurried people on a 30 minute break from work want - Buffalo Wild Wings is now attacking the lunch market nationwide. Lunch currently represents about 10% of Buffalo Wild Wings' weekday sales.
Smith added on Tuesday, "We are packed at dinner, and if we really want to move average unit volumes and same-store sales then lunch provides us with a great opportunity."
Getting to be known for lunch, which has long been dominated by appetizer friendly destinations such as DineEquity (DIN) Applebee's chain and TGI Fridays, Buffalo Wild Wings may add sales this year that it normally didn't generate. Kronebusch mentioned the lunch menu may be updated every 60 to 90 days to keep it relevant with finicky customers.
Buffalo Wild Wings may also get a sales boost from the long-awaited boxing match between Manny Pacquaio and Floyd Mayweather on Saturday, May 2, though executives sought to downplay the impact.
Due to the high cost to air the fight at its restaurants, about $100 on pay-per-view, and the timing of the 8 p.m. CT event when Buffalo Wild Wings are normally packed, it will only show it in a "handful" of its over 500 company owned restaurants. The company plans to charge a "small" cover fee to offset the cost it will pay to show the fight, marking a first time it has ever tried to charge a cover fee at its company-operated locations. Buffalo Wild Wings' franchisees have typically extended cover charges to customers in the past for a sporting event of this magnitude to offset viewing costs.
"The cost of the fight is up more than 200% than previous fights, maybe 300%, and it just becomes a law of large numbers where you say you can't possibly get a return on it -- it would be a loss leader in a way," explained Smith regarding the limited number of company-operated restaurants that will show the fight. The company will instead shift its focus for the big spectacle to its takeout business, which is about 15% of sales, and in this case will serve those at home who plunked down the cash to watch.