- Almost two years after the chicken sandwich wars began — sparked by Popeyes' debut of its fried chicken sandwich and a subsequent battle for market dominance between Chick-fil-A, KFC, McDonald's and other QSRs — Edison Trends reports Chick-fil-A captured 41% of money spent on chicken sandwich delivery orders during April.
- McDonald's landed the second-largest share of spending, securing 27% of chicken sandwich delivery spending. Popeyes captured 12% of this spending, followed by Wendy's (6%), KFC (5%), Jack in the Box (4%), Burger King (3%) and Zaxby's (2%), according to Edison Trends data emailed to Restaurant Dive.
- This data, compiled from more than 120,000 transactions from 16 food delivery services, suggests the QSR campaigns to dethrone Chick-fil-A as the de facto chicken sandwich chain weren't as successful as initially perceived. After Popeyes' sandwich launched in August 2019, 17 additional chicken sandwich menu items have been unveiled across 17 chains, Restaurant Business reports.
Though Chick-fil-A's share of chicken sandwich delivery spending declined by more than 10% between October 2019 and January 2020 — overlapping with a roughly 30% spike for Popeyes during the same period — the Atlanta-based chain's share of spend has been fairly consistent since April 2020.
Edison Trend's findings may suggest that despite the novelty of new chicken sandwich products by Popeyes and rival chains, Chick-fil-A's strong brand power won out, especially across delivery channels. In January, the restaurant scored the strongest brand intimacy among QSR chains in MBLM's Brand Intimacy COVID study, followed by McDonald's, Starbucks, KFC and Dunkin'. Chick-fil-A also scored higher than any other QSR restaurants in MLBM's 2019 Brand Intimacy Study.
Chick-fil-A's consistent chicken sandwich dominance is impressive considering its limited unit count. KFC, for example, had 4,065 locations in 2019 compared to Chick-fil-A's 2,470 restaurants. KFC rolled out a revamped chicken sandwich nationwide in January, but has only experienced a minimal uptick in share of chicken sandwich delivery spend, according to Edison Trends data. Popeyes unit count is about the same as Chick-fil-A's.
Chick-fil-A's operational prowess could also be at play here. It's worth noting that Popeyes delivery channel isn't as robust as Chick-fil-A's network. The Louisiana-based chain began offering delivery in 2018 in response to customer demand. Chick-fil-A also launched delivery in 2018 through a partnership with DoorDash after testing the channel in 2017, but the company has been investing in off-premise innovation over the years, experimenting with ghost kitchens and opening a location inside DoorDash Kitchens in 2019. Most recently, Chick-fil-A announced it will launch a delivery-only concept called Little Blue Menu in Nashville this year and in Atlanta in 2022.
But Popeyes has been strengthening its delivery channel as well. During parent company Restaurant Brands International's Q3 2019 earnings call, CEO Jose Cil said that Popeyes implemented new POS systems at the majority of its locations, supporting "the continued rollout of delivery and implementation of multiple aggregators at certain restaurants." Now that Popeyes has overcome its chicken sandwich supply issues, it's possible awareness of its delivery offering could grow and help it secure a bigger slice of chicken sandwich delivery spend.
Popeyes' chicken sandwich have improved comp sales for the company since the menu item's launch, and continued to drive growth during the height of the pandemic. During Q2 2020, delivery grew four times at the chain compared to the same period in 2019, and digital made up 14% of total sales at Popeyes in the U.S. The menu item is still performing strongly at the chain, with comp sales up 30% in Q1 2021 compared to the same period in 2019, and 17% of its sales came through digital channels.
"The substantial increase in awareness of the Popeyes brand and our amazing products have been a great way for us to introduce many new guests to the brand," Cil said on RBI's Q1 2021 earnings call.