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The Fried Chicken Sandwich Wars



Nearly 2 week after Popeyes’ fried chicken sandwich made its return to the fast food scene, it is still generating buzz.

People are Tweeting photos of long lines at Popeyes across the country, as well as their impressions of the sandwich.

Placer.ai, a company that tracks retail foot traffic and other data, said Thursday that the reaction to the sandwich’s return exceeded that of its 1st time out.

It estimated that last Sunday traffic at Popeyes outlets was up 300% over the normal baseline, compared with increases of 255.6% and 243% on the original launch days of 23 – 24 August respectively.

The Big Q: Why is a chicken sandwich causing so much fuss?

The Big A: Chicken is 1 of the fastest-growing and most sustainable features of fast food menus.

That’s created a Big Four of chicken players, in a market that still has space to grow.

In Y 2010, there were 17,924 fast food establishments that specialized in chicken, according to a comprehensive report produced in July by analyst IBIS World.

By Y 2019, that expanded to 25,106, or +40%. And, fast food chicken revenue has nearly 3X’d this decade, from about $17.5 to $43.2-B, up 146%.

That revenue growth has been steady, growing about 8.4% per year during the past 5 years, and annual growth of 4.7% expected through Y 2024, according to IBISWorld.

Within the fast food chicken field, Chick-fil-A is the clear leader, but its competitors are racing to keep up.

Below is a look at each company, and their chicken sandwich, as follows:

Chick-fil-A: With 27.9% of the market, Chick-fil-A is the company that every fast food chicken player watches. Chick-fil-A is privately held, but IBISWorld estimates that its annual revenue in Y 2019 will be about $9.6-B, up 11.3% over the past 5 years.

Chick-fil-A’s menu lists 6 different chicken sandwiches, ut its flagship is the Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich. It sells for $3.39, and features a boneless chicken breast, cooked in peanut oil, served on a buttered bun with pickle chips.

It’s available on a gluten free bun or a multi-grain one for an additional cost.

KFC: It has not been the easiest decade for KFC, part of Yum Brands. Once the dominant name in American fast food fried chicken, KFC’s market share has dropped from 22.6% in 2014 to 14.6% in 2019, according to IBISWorld.

Its revenue is forecast to be about $5-B in Y 2019, and IBISWorld believes KFC will hang onto its market share, despite growing chicken competition.

KFC has 2 basic fried chicken sandwiches, the Crispy Colonel Sandwich, which costs $4.59, and Chicken Littles, which are mini sandwiches available for $1.69. It also offers sandwiches in limited time flavors, such as its current lineup of Smoky Mountain BBQ, Georgis Gold and Nashville Hot.

The fried chicken sandwiches are made with a fried chicken filet, mayo and pickles on a bun.

Popeyes: Before the fried chicken wars broke out last Summer, Popeyes was expected to hold about 10.8% of the fast food chicken market in Y 2019.

Its revenue has grown from about $2.3-B in Y 2013 to $3;7-B in Y 2019. And, Popeyes’ owner, Restaurant Brands International, has the company on an aggressive growth path.

The Popeyes Fried Chicken Sandwich, available in regular and spicy, costs $3.99. It is dressed with mayo and pickles.

Zaxby’s: A privately held company, Zaxby’s is mainly available across the Southeast. But it holds 8.1% of the chicken market, and is expanding beyond its home region.

IBISWorld estimates that Zaxby’s annual revenue has grown from about $1-B in Y 2013 to $2.8-B in Y 2019. Its outlets have nearly 2X’d, from 546 5 years ago to more than 1,000 now.

Zaxby’s has a wide variety of chicken sandwiches, so it’s hard to tell which can be considered the centerpiece of its menu.

One flagship can be considered the Chicken Finger Sandwich, which has Zaxby’s signature chicken fingers, its famous Zax sauce, lettuce and tomato on a potato flour bun.

The Chicken Finger Sandwich costs $4.29.

Placer.ai says there are 2 things that have yet to be determined in the fried chicken sandwich wars: Can the interest be sustained, even at a lower level?

And 2nd, how will the competition respond to Popeyes?

Given the number of choices out there, it may not feel a need to do so.

According to Placer.ai, KFC is already enjoying a bump in business from Popeyes’ publicity

Have a terrific weekend

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