Popeyes, who unleashed the latest bout in August with his spicy chicken sandwich, strives to restore the viral sensation "as soon as possible". Chick-fil-A is growing steadily, selling nearly twice as big chicken chains. And McDonald's franchise owners, who have watched the fight from the sidelines, are putting pressure on their CEO to bring home the crunchy, breaded price.
"JFK called for a man on the moon," they wrote in a July letter. "Our reputation should be a class leading chicken sandwich."
"If you're the biggest contributor to a growing category, then you're profiting a lot," said Michael Haracz, who served as McDonald's culinary innovation manager until August. "That's exponentially more sales, more attention, more foot traffic in your restaurant."
There will be "clear winners," said Haracz, who will dominate the space and earn profits – as long as they can keep up with demand.
Thirty Years of Food Combat
Although the battle for roast chicken was particularly brisk this summer, it was part of a dynamic that dates back at least 30 years.
In 1989, McDonald's launched a national "country-style" "McChicken sandwich and sparked a fight with Hardee, then one of the country's largest fast food chains." McDonald's does indeed promote his new product, however, it's not even comparable to our chicken fillet sandwich, which has been on the market since 1979, "said Hardee's president at the time, according to a 1989 report by Charlotte Observer. The newspaper published the story, titled" Chicken Sandwiches the fast food war. "
In the following decades, fast food chains have introduced and re-launched new iterations of the sandwich, and McDonald's had several versions, including premium and time-limited deals Last year alone, the Ultimate Chicken Sandwich, the Mighty Chicken Sandwich, a spicy BBQ chicken sandwich and the McChicken were served as companies experimented with chicken sandwiches, They occasionally caused a stir. In 2010, KFC hit the headlines with the Double Down – a time-limited cheese and bacon sandwich with two fried chicken pieces in which the bun should have been. (KFC brought it back briefly in 2014.)
But even though articles like Double Down have become viral, there may not have been anything like the rage that took place this summer when Popeyes launched his national chicken sandwich.
Many refer to a Twitter exchange as an instigator. On August 19th, a week after Popeye's sandwich stores, Chick-fil-A's official Twitter account posted a message: "Bun + Chicken + Pickles = all <3 for the original." Popeyes interpreted the message as a stitch, tweeted the post again, adding "…. y & # 39; all good?"
The cheeky reaction hit a nerve. It has collected nearly 87,000 retweets and 324,000 likes, spawned memes and spawned countless cry-laughter emojis from social media users. Chick-fil-A did not take the bait, but Wendy's came in and played with Popeyes on Twitter to please viewers.
It is unlikely that the brand war would have had such a big impact had the Americans not already been interested in roast chicken sandwiches.
"There have always been fried chicken sandwiches," said Kara Nielsen, vice president of trends and marketing at CCD Innovation, a food and beverage consultancy. However, her current interest in the position leads her back to the 2008 financial crisis.
"One of the things that emerged from this recession point was the interest in comfort foods, as well as many people opening food trucks and creating food stalls," she said. "So there was definitely a lot of fried chicken sandwiches at that time and it never really stopped."
And as bespoke roast chicken sandwiches won local fans, a small, quirky chain chugged along steadily.
The Rise of Chick-fil-A
Chick-fil-A goes back to the original dinner of Founder S. Truett Cathy, Dwarf Grill, which opened in 1946. Cathy opened the first Chick-fil-A in 1967 at the Greenbriar Shopping Center in Atlanta.
For years, the company expanded mainly in shopping centers with food courts. In 1986, it opened its first independent site in Atlanta. Today, the chain operates more than 2,400 restaurants in 47 states and Washington DC. Other chicken chains are bigger – Popeyes, for example, has more than 2,600 US restaurants and KFC has about 4,000. But Chick-fil-A surpasses them.
After annual sales, Chick-fil-A is the fifth largest US restaurant chain after McDonald's, Starbucks, Subway and Taco Bell – all have far more shops.
Chick-fil-A's individual businesses are more productive than their larger competitors. According to Technomic, a food research company, they achieved an average of $ 4.4 million in 2018, well above McDonald's or Starbucks' sales.
Also, the chain is popular, according to surveys and surveys.
Customer service and food quality explain the success of Chick-fil-A. But it also has a commercially important X-factor: authenticity.
R. J. Hottovy, an Morningstar food analyst, said that in recent years, companies that specialize in a particular product and appear more authentic are performing better than companies that turn to everyone.
Nevertheless, Chick-fil-A has grown steadily and has picked up the loyal followers.
"There are so many people who have an understanding or idea of what Chick-fil-A is, even if they never eat there or have never seen one," Nielsen said. "It has become a bit of this mythical thing, and clearly millennials have found it and found that it fits their bill."
As Chick-Fil-A locations appear in more cities, more people hurry to try their sandwiches. This has helped boost sales of roast chicken sandwiches – and made other fast food chains pay attention. "This broiler chicken trend continues as companies like Chick-fil-A expand their reach," said Nielsen.
While Chick-fil-A is sneaking over the nation, one group in particular is trying to defend its territory. McDonald's franchise owners call for reinforcement.
On July 10, a month before Popeyes launched his sandwich, the board sent the National Owners Association, a group of McDonald's franchisees, formed in 2018 , a meaningful letter to its members.
"We find ways to drive profitable growth," wrote the board. "Still, we still lose visitor numbers, which remains a problem."
One reason for the loss is that customers who ask for a delicious roast chicken sandwich do not go to McDonald's. They go to Chick-Fil-A.
"A favorite our customers want is a chicken sandwich, but unfortunately they have to chick-fil-A for that," the board said. "The results from Chick-fil-A prove the strength of chicken, yes, we have great chicken McNuggets and our McChicken is a very good product, but we do not compete in the premium chicken sandwich category, neither grilled nor crispy . "
The letter continued with a warning: "The results of our markets in the Southeastern United States should all affect you.You may not have Chick-Fil-A on your market or to the extent you have them in the Southeast, but they come and they do not. " t discount. "
"I think it's fair to assume that we would do chicken things a bit differently in everything that's going on in the quarter, and I think that's a fair conclusion," Kevin Ozan, who replied CFO of the company.
Currently McDonald's keeps his plans near the vest. The company declined to tell CNN Business when it wanted to launch its next chicken sandwich, but said, "We are inspired by customer demand for premium chicken sandwiches and work closely with our franchisees to deliver what ours Stay tuned. "
One source, which was closely linked to the conversation between the owners and McDonald's, said a premium chicken sandwich may hit the market earlier this year.
But while McDonald's tinkering with and concentrating on other businesses, franchise owners have become impatient.
At the end of August, after the hugely successful launch of Popeyes, Blake Casper, the director of NOA, sent out another grim message.
"It has been a busy week, especially when you work at Popeyes," he wrote. "Popeyes has released a chicken sandwich that can match Chick-fil-A. It's the first time that Chick-fil-A has been forced to blink, or more precisely, to blink, and unfortunately we're still not in the game. "
But, Casper continued, it's not over.
" That's going to change. We are working on a chicken sandwich that will compete. We will be in the game. People will get tired of the service at Popeyes and they want an alternative to Chick-fil-A. "Said
" They Want A Chicken Sandwich At McDonald's. We will give it to them. "