UPDATE, Aug. 27, 2019: Following significant demand and long lines at its locations, Popeyes sold out of its chicken sandwiches on Tuesday, according to the company's Twitter feed. The company didn't indicate when it would be back in stock, but told customers on Twitter to download an app to receive notifications when the sandwich is back in stock.
- Popeyes will launch a chicken sandwich on its menus nationwide for the first time on Monday, according a company release. The chain is calling this its biggest product launch in 30 years.
- Stores which have already introduced the sandwich have seen "positive incremental sales," Jose Cil, CEO of Popeyes' parent company Restaurant Business International, recently told investors.
- The brand is advertising a pre-launch of the sandwich at Sweet Dixie Kitchen in Long Beach, California, chosen because of an incident in 2017 in which the owner was caught serving Popeyes chicken and presenting it as their own. The incident went viral on social media, known as #PopeyesGate.
Recently-released research from NPD Group shows that there are not only more chicken sandwich restaurant concepts to contend with, but also that chicken sandwiches are appearing on more menus. Chicken sandwich servings ordered in the year ending February 2019 were up 4% from same period a year ago, at 4 billion servings. By comparison, burger orders stayed flat from orders one year ago, at 8.6 billion.
Overall, sandwiches are making more frequent appearances. According to Technomic's MenuMonitor, 65.6% of restaurants have sandwiches on their menus, meeting demand for the 61% of consumers who eat a sandwich at least once a week, and 37% who eat a sandwich more than once a week.
It's therefore no surprise that Popeyes would flex its core competency to try and stave off growing competition. But the launch is likely also a response to the wild success of Chick-fil-A and its signature chicken sandwich. Even with one less day of business, individual Chick-fil-A restaurants raked in over $4 million in sales in 2017 while McDonald's brought in $2.7 million per unit, according to QSR Magazine. In June, Nation's Restaurant News reported that Chick-fil-A is now the third-largest restaurant chain by sales, up from seventh last year and surpassing Wendy's, Burger King, Taco Bell and Subway.
The popularity of Popeyes' chicken sandwich, which included rave reviews, showed that the brand could compete with the likes of Chick-fil-A, especially since a Twitter feud between the two compelled many customers to try the new sandwich. Its supply issues could be problematic for long-term success and reveal a lack of foresight from the company. The company ended up selling out of its sandwiches within two weeks, but thought the stock would last through September, according to Business Insider. Employees have complained of working 60-hour weeks to keep up with customer demand, only to be threatened by customers.
This meteoric rise in an often stagnant segment has caught the attention of more than just Popeyes. Last month, a group of McDonald's franchisees urged corporate to prioritize a chicken sandwich launch, pointing to Chick-fil-A's growing dominance. The group warned other franchisees that even though Chick-fil-A may not be in every market and have the same scale elsewhere as it has in the southeast, it is expanding quickly and doesn't offer discounts, according to CNBC.
McDonald's has had plenty of success with its own chicken. Its buttermilk chicken tenders were so popular last year that it couldn't keep up with demand and had to suspend sales while its supply chain caught up.
Ahead of the sandwich launch, during Restaurant Business International's Q2 call last week, Cil said the boneless chicken category has been strong for the brand, including its chicken sandwich, already rolled out in several markets.
As both the demand for chicken continues to grow and Chick-fil-A continues to churn out standard-bearing results, the chicken sandwich wars may just be getting started.