Why are chicken sandwiches having such a moment?

In the last few weeks, new players have entered the chicken sandwich wars: Zaxby’s announced its new Signature Chicken Sandwich, Church’s Chicken released the Church’s Chicken Sandwich, and Wendy’s launched its new and improved Classic Chicken Sandwich.
Why are chicken sandwiches having such a moment? Over the last 2 years, chicken-focused restaurants have been outpacing the restaurant market in terms of both foot traffic and sales.


Who is the chicken consumer? Our syndicated survey data shows that of consumers who report eating chicken in the past day, their demographics skew older, female, higher income, children in household, and suburban geography.


What drives consumers to choose chicken? Survey respondents report that the reason why they chose to get chicken from a restaurant had more to do with craveability than with value.


Consumers also perceive chicken restaurants to be more healthy and clean. In addition to the craveability factor, there's a health halo that chicken brands benefit from, not only in terms of chicken being considered a healthier protein option, but also in terms of cleanliness of stores - an incredibly important factor during the COVID era.


How did this all start? With the launch of Popeye's Chicken Sandwich in August 2019, the Chicken Wars officially began, initially driven by viral social media interest. As a result, Popeye's experienced significant YOY foot traffic growth - the highest-ever lift we've seen from a menu item launch since we started tracking this data in 2016.

Not only was the launch incredibly successful, but Popeye's has actually been able to sustain this momentum from last summer, continuing to outperform the competition with a 50%+ YOY growth in spend per capita in 2020.


How has other chicken innovation performed since the origin of the Chicken wars?  Evaluating other brands' chicken sandwich launches, none has come close to the performance of Popeyes' launch.  


Social media played a significant role in Popeyes' launch. One of the consumer segments which Popeyes' launch performed well with was Urban Influencers, who skew younger, urban, affluent, users of social media, and not traditionally heavy QSR users. Capturing the attention of this segment helped amplify the viral social media buzz that surrounded the launch. McDonald's saw a similar phenomenon with its recent Travis Scott promotion, and saw similar overperformance with the Urban Influencer segment.


Overall, the chicken wars have evolved from a social media battle between Popeyes and Wendy's to a fierce competition between multiple brands. Popeyes remains the winner in many aspects, but we'll see if that holds true as more brands get into the game.


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