- Popeyes reported system-wide sales growth of 42.3% to $1.3 billion in Q4 2019 driven by the chicken sandwich. In the year-ago quarter, sales were $934 million, according to an earnings release. For the year, systemwide sales grew 18.5%, reaching $4.4 billion.
- Comparable sales for the quarter were 34.4% for the brand compared to 0.1% in the year-ago quarter. For the year, comparable sales came in at 12.1% compared to 1.6% in 2018.
- "This is just the beginning, we think this is a great opportunity to introduce our brand across the U.S. and around the globe," Jose Cil, CEO of Restaurant Brands International, said during the Monday earnings call, adding the relaunch generated billions of media impressions.
What began as a Twitter feud with Chick-fil-A and Wendy's turned into Popeyes' most successful product launch, with the chicken sandwich selling out in just two weeks. The last half of the year was particularly strong for Popeyes — Q3 was the company’s best quarter in almost 20 years. Momentum only built up during the nearly three-month wait for the sandwich's return in November.
Once the sandwich was back on the menu customers faced long waits and a chaotic ordering process, but monthly foot traffic only spiked. Visits during November increased 114.8% above the baseline, according to Placer.ai data. For the entire year, traffic increased 26.8% compared to 2018.
The chicken sandwich was also an important driver for the brand's core offerings, which performed well during the quarter, Cil said. Guests ended up spending more on other products than the chicken sandwich itself, generating healthy check levels, he said. About half of the total tickets contained a purchase of the chicken sandwich, with growth in sales coming across other categories, Cil said.
The boost in sales also improved franchisee results and has led to additional interest in growing Popeyes. Cil expects there to be a huge opportunity in the coming years to grow the brand from a cult status to a true mainstream player in the U.S. Carrols Restaurant Group CEO Dan Accordino, a Popeyes franchisee, told Restaurant Business last month that the sandwich brought so many new diners to the restaurant that he thinks it could help the chain expand into markets it hasn't previously considered.
While the chicken sandwich has been remarkable for Popeyes, it could be hit with another shortage, especially with McDonald’s rolling out its own fried chicken sandwich and Wendy’s investing $30 million for its chicken supply. Because these sandwiches are using smaller chickens, Bloomberg reports a pending shortage with chickens smaller than 4.25 pounds. Restaurants are increasingly prioritizing these small chickens since they are not tough like larger birds and don’t need to be cut to size.