After nearly fifteen months being cooped up due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the chicken war is beginning to heat up and the feathers are beginning to fly once again as several new combatants enter one of the most intense battles for capturing America’s title for the most favorite chicken sandwich.
Back in 2019, Popeyes, a clear chick-contender leveled a broadside blow on the champion of chicken sandwiches, Chick-fil-A. The flapping and clucking were intense as the lesser pecker, Popeyes, drew eaters away from the champion in a surprise attack. It only lasted a few weeks but the performance from a seemingly weaker competitor got the attention of not only the big clucker but the rest of the fast-food industry as well. The effort was such a smashing success that it encouraged more competitors to rooster the hens and join in the fray.
The ranks now include; McDonald’s, Taco Bell KFC, Wendy’s, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Arby’s, Jimmy John’s, Shake Shack, and even a little national peep called Smashburger, who recently announced the introduction of the Scorchin’ Hot Crispy Chicken sandwich. It’s a real plump and tender, Nashville barnyard “hottie”, topped with spicy red pepper mayo, pickles, and served up on a classic toasted bun. Wendy’s newest fried chicken sandwich features jalapeño cream cheese, shredded pepper jack cheese, applewood smoked bacon, cheddar cheese sauce, and jalapeños. So, what’s all the sizzling about?
Statistics indicate that roughly 65% of the U.S. population ordered a breaded chicken sandwich from a quick-service restaurant in the last six months. That’s a lot of white meat! Whether grilled naked, scorched, blackened, or battered and fried, every fast-food restaurant is scratching to get a share of the market. Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor explained, “It’s easy, quick to make. You can serve it fresh and hot and you can do some unique builds along the way. It’s got a healthier perception to it from a consumer perspective, so I do think that there are a lot of folks gravitating to it, and with all the news that’s been created, it does drive a lot of trial. And it gets folks to really think about, maybe I need to have a few more chicken sandwiches in my routine.”
Chicken’s rise in popularity, according to the USDA, began its upward trend in the 1940s. Since the early 1970s chicken consumption has more than doubled. The NPD Group reported that chicken sandwiches were featured in 6.7% of all restaurant orders in the U.S last year, which amounted to 3.5 billion servings. Now that’s a lot to cluck about!
The marketing collateral has been as varied as the sandwiches with no media channel left out of the squalling. From billboards to television to social media platforms WhatsApp, TikTok, and Twitter, the rhetoric has been as spicy and hot as the best of the sandwich offerings. Social media accounts from Chick-fil-a and Popeyes are filled with playful zingers between the two competitors. Apex Marketing Group estimated that Popeyes reaped $65 million in equivalent media value as a result of the initial Chicken Sandwich War effort in 2019. “No matter which chicken sandwich wins the chicken sandwich war or which sandwich is competing with the burger, operators who put chicken sandwiches or burgers or both on their menus are headed in the right direction,” says David Portalatin, NPD Food Industry Advisor and Author.
All the crowing about a chicken sandwich may seem a bit silly in a world navigating around so many more critically important challenges, but all the cackling and clucking is a welcome distraction to the seriousness of the past year’s pandemic and may just be an indication that the world is getting ever-closer to a new normal not so different from the old normal. Cock-a-doodle-do! Rise and shine.