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Where Were You During the Chicken Sandwich War of 2019?

Image Credit: diy13 / Shutterstock.com

In a world where radical terrorists threaten life and individual liberties daily, rogue states launch destructive attacks against another country’s oil production capabilities, and political parties wage one character assassination after another, a new battle emerges and rages across the fast food landscape in America. Just as we were remembering where we were on September 11, 2001, a new question is being asked about our whereabouts on a critical day in history. Where were you during the Chicken Sandwich War of 2019?

The potentially deadly insurgence began as an honest effort by Popeyes to find a winning recipe for a chicken sandwich that would rival chicken industry leader Chick-fil-A. It’s not that Popeyes was alone in its desire to take on the big fast-food cluck’r.  Executives at Buffalo Wild Wings, Cracker Barrel and McDonald’s had already issued a command to their fighters to find a way to diffuse Chick-fil-A’s dominance in the chicken sandwich marketplace. The assault on Chick-fil-A’s position as the third-largest fast-food chain in the US by sales in 2018, despite having far fewer locations than most of its rivals, was enjoined.

The order to engage the competition came after a strategic review of the battlefield. It was discovered that more diners were buying tenders and chicken sandwiches at an increased pace. José Cil, CEO of Restaurant Brands International, the parent company of Popeyes, Burger King, and Tim Hortons, said, “It’s a segment within quick service that we think is growing and growing for the long term. It’s not just a trend here in the US. We think it’s a growing trend in Europe. It’s a growing trend in Asia and Latin America.” In early August, Popeye’s logistical leadership set out to stockpile the ammunition needed to sustain its sandwich-preparing soldiers’ efforts through the end of September.

Thinking they were fully prepared and sufficiently deboned and battered, the Popeyes army commanders initiated the order for a post dawn attack on the crispy, white-meat king’s market position. As is often the case in any war effort, the aggressor’s plan soon became the first victim of the new war, as a well-executed grassroots Twitter battle maneuvered around the competitors’ flanks. Popeyes sandwich preparers were quickly complaining that they were being over-run by an onslaught of hungry customers.  Heavy losses in the ranks were realized as battle-weary associates abandoned their positions and retreated in the face of the unrelenting demands of famished consumers, a few who brandished real weapons and deployed law suits in revenge of their unfulfilled appetites. The action soon became a classic marketing example of “be careful what your wish for”, or better yet, “be particularly careful about being prepared for what you wish for.” In just two weeks, Popeyes, facing a fully depleted cache’ of ammunition, officially suspended their warring efforts and retreated to plan the next move.

Business Insider’s reviewer Irene Jiang, opined her impression as to the reason for the sandwich’s immediate success. “The chicken was incomparably crispy, juicy, and fresh, and all the elements of the sandwich were well balanced. Each bite was bursting with flavor. And its price tag is also the most appealing. At $4, it’s the cheapest sandwich in the lineup.” Twitter users sang praises of Popeyes’ new menu item and projected it as a bonified rival to the reigning chicken-sandwich king Chick-fil-A. Social media is recognized as the reason for the intense fighting of the battle.

The embattled Popeyes ranks violated a food industry mantra to never run out of food while facing a hungry crowd. Generally seen as the most egregious of errors, Popeyes just might pull off a better-prepared coup and in the end come out of the experience a victor.

Apex Marketing Group estimated that Popeyes reaped $65 million in equivalent media value as a result of their initial Chicken Sandwich War effort. The hit and run effort raised the profile of Popeyes. “Popeyes is not top of mind when it comes to fast food,” says Eric Smallwood, president of Apex Marketing. “Now everybody’s looking and asking, ‘Where’s the closest Popeyes?’”

Popeyes’ owners, Restaurant Brands International, are vowing to return to the chicken fight, scratching and crowing to reverse what some are calling a clucking defeat in the fowl war. The new battle plan is to reintroduce its new crispy chicken sandwich as a regular menu item. “We are working with suppliers of all components of our sandwich to build up our supply in order to bring back the chicken sandwich as soon as possible”.

Stay tuned America, the feathers are about to fly again!


Disclaimer: Statements made in this blog in no way diminish the impact of current and historical events that impact our Nation. The intent of this perspective is a satirical approach to what is trending in marketing.