America has a new obsession. It’s not with a singer, TV show, or cuddly animal. This time, America is in love with a chicken sandwich.
In the first half of 2019, Popeyes was just another fast food restaurant with a catchy jingle. It specialized in fried chicken, traditionally on the bone, and was primarily competing against Kentucky Fried Chicken. All of this changed in the second half of the year when they introduced their chicken sandwich. The sandwich was crafted with care and designed to be a more premium offering, but Popeyes was not prepared for the success of the sandwich. The company’s two month supply of chicken filets sold out within two weeks, leaving Popeyes without enough chicken to meet customers’ demands. So, they had to stop selling the sandwich for two months.
Fast forward to November and the chicken sandwich is back. So is the demand for the sandwich, leaving Popeyes with lines out the door and customers eager to try the sandwich before it disappears again.
How did this all happen? Why did this happen? And most importantly, can Popeyes sustain the success.
What’s In a Popeyes’ Chicken Sandwich?
There’s a reason people rave over this sandwich, and it boils down to the ingredients in the dish. Of course, there’s the chicken in the middle. The chicken filet is fried in Popeyes’ new buttermilk batter and is a generous cut of meat. In fact, it has received compliments for being meatier and juicer than competitors. Then, there’s the bun. Rather than a simple white bun, the sandwich uses a buttery brioche bun. This is supposedly sweeter than your average bun with the added flavor of the butter. Between the buns also lies pickles and mayo, either traditional or spicy. That’s it: chicken filet, buttery brioche bun, pickles, and mayo.
When you really break down the four ingredients, it’s clear Popeyes paid attention to every detail. All four ingredients were designed specifically for this sandwich. The cut of the meat is generous, the bread designed to enhance the flavor and can’t be on other Popeyes sandwiches, the pickles are thicker than most fast food pickles, and the mayo is added to keep the sandwich moist and spicy (if the customer chooses).
It’s a simple but intentional dish. Customer appreciate the detail, but Popeyes and easily assemble the sandwich… assuming they have the ingredients in stock.
Popeyes vs. Chick-fil-A
Let’s not ignore the obvious. Popeyes did not invent the chicken sandwich and the recipe follows a familiar format. There’s another restaurant offering a buttermilk chicken filet on a buttery bun with pickles. Of course, I’m referring to Chik-fil-A.
Despite all of its controversy, Chick-fil-A is successful. It’s actually the most profitable fast food chain per location in the United States. This means there’s an obvious market for the chicken sandwiches, and Chick-fil-A was getting most of the business. Popeyes identified the lack of competition and set their targets on the most popular chicken sandwich in the US.
I can remember Chick-fil-A getting a lot of publicity in the past, but prior to the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich I can never remember another fast food restaurant trying to challenge Chick-fil-A. I’ve lived through McDonald’s Chicken Selects, Burger King’s Tendercrisp, and KFC’s Double Down. Chick-fil-A remained unbothered throughout all of these promotional product. For the first time, I see a product posing a threat to Chick-fil-A.
Customers like to see a good competition, and in many ways they want to root for the underdog. Popeyes in the underdog and the brand who dared to challenge Chick-fil-A. Perhaps Popeyes won’t knock Chick-fil-A off the thrown, but they have stolen a lot of their attention and given customers the opportunity to be the critic. The customers are torn, but the fact that Popeyes is a contender in this chicken war gives Chick-fil-A a reason to be concerned.
It’s clear Popeyes identified Chick-fil-A’s shortcomings and leveraged them to build their sandwich. Many people think the Chick-fil-A sandwich is too dry, so Popeyes’ sandwich comes with mayo by default. Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays, but Popeyes is open on Sunday… and they’ll let you know that. If you ever wished someone would address you chicken sandwich problems, Popeyes is the hero you’ve been waiting for.
Is Popeyes’ Chicken Sandwich Here to Stay?
After its two month hiatus, Popeyes had addressed its shortage of chicken filets. Unsurprisingly, they plan on keeping the successful sandwich on their menu. The lines may have died down, but the sandwich has gained its fans and it’s unlikely to be gone any time soon.
Popeyes’ introduced their sandwich with great intentions: focus on quality and provide a product that gives customers what they want. When quality is the focus, you’re bound to get recognition from some notable people. A number of celebrities such as Cardi B and Gayle King praised the sandwich. This increased public interest and chicken fans wanted to make up their own mind. Word of mouth is a powerful tool. In this case, word of mouth sold millions of chicken sandwiches.
Popeyes used their shortage of supplies to generate more hype around the sandwich. When it returned, many people had hear the lore of the Chick-fil-A competitor and wanted to try it themselves. This is why you’re still going to see lines at Popeyes for the sandwich. Popeyes probably took the best possible approach during their shortage of chicken filets. Rather than restricting sales of the sandwich to certain markets or limiting store supplies, they rereleased the sandwich once all markets could be fully served.
I believe the lines will decrease in the coming months, but the sandwich will stay on the menu. It’s rare for a fast food chain to get this much attention for one item, and so long as the item sells it will say on the menu. Of course, if sales seriously slump then the sandwich will probably disappear. The bun and pickles are specifically used for this sandwich. If the sandwich doesn’t sell Popeyes will have a lot of unused ingredients lying around. Fortunately, that doesn’t appear to be an issue in the near future. Popeyes is struggling to keep the sandwich in stock, and that’s a great success for a chain like Popeyes.