Commentary

Popeyes Reignites Chicken Sandwich War

Popeyes is bringing back the chicken sandwich that touched off a social media brouhaha between it and a couple of competitors when it made such a successful debut in August, it was withdrawn from the market until supplies could be assured.

“Y’all … the sandwich is back Sunday, November 3rd. Then every day," Popeyes tweeted  on Monday morning. The tweet included a video that showed a Popeyes sign next to a Chick-fil-A with two messages juxtaposed: Chick-fil-A saying it is ‘Closed Sunday’ and Popeyes saying it is ‘Open Sunday,’” Matthew Rozsa writes  for Salon.

“If this sounds like a slap across the cheek of Chick-fil-A -- a chain repeatedly called out for its support of anti-LGBTQ organizations, even after the company downplayed  its conservative agenda -- it is. It absolutely is,” writes  Tim Carman for The Washington Post before a bulletpoint recapping of “the saga of Popeyes’ chicken sandwich.”

Here’s Niraj Chokshi's concise, if abundantly linked, summary for The New York Times: “Popeyes began selling the chicken sandwich nationwide on Aug. 12 to rave reviews. A writer for Thrillist called it  'the best new thing in fast food.' A critic with The Dallas Observer called  it a ‘a game-changer in the fast-food world.’

“A week later, Chick-fil-A threw shade  at the chain … and so launched a social media fight seemingly crafted for the dog days of summer. As Shake Shack, Wendy’s and other chains weighed in, lines grew at Popeyes restaurants across the country. Employees worked overtime as locations sold out of the sandwiches.

“A supply intended to last three months ran out in just two weeks, The Wall Street Journal reported, and, on Aug. 27, Popeyes said  on Twitter that the sandwich was sold out,” Chokshi reminds us.

“Word traveled fast that the sandwich is delicious and created an unprecedented demand. A lot of the buzz was created organically on social media,” Felipe Athayde, president of Popeyes for the Americas, tells USA Today’s Kelly Tyko. “Our guests were engaging with us and we decided to have some fun alongside them.”

“Popeyes and its owners, private equity-backed Restaurant Brands International Inc., have spent much of the two months since it ran out …  securing suppliers that could meet its specifications for quantity and small-breast size of the item’s poultry, according to people familiar with the discussions. The fast-food chain also had to ensure supplies for the sandwich’s specialty brioche bun, one of the people said,” Heather Haddon reports  for The Wall Street Journal.

“The sandwich features filets from small-breasted birds, which tend to be favored by retailers and are in tighter supply than large-size birds, the people said. Popeyes also has been hyperfocused on costs in its negotiations for the meat, they said,” Haddon adds.

Meanwhile, Toronto-based Restaurant Brands International announced yesterday that same-store sales at Popeyes grew by 9.7% during its third quarter, boosted by the nationwide launch of the chicken sandwich.

RBI’s Burger King also fared well. 

“The launch of the meatless Impossible Whopper helped the chain achieve its strongest quarterly same-store sales growth since 2015,” writes  CNBC’s Amelia Lucas. 

On an earning call transcribed by Seeking Alpha, CEO Jose Cil told analysts “that the item is popular with younger customers, as well as older customers who have not visited a Burger King restaurant for a while. Other menu items, like the $1 tacos, also sold well,” Lucas adds.

But Tim Hortons, the Canadian coffee chain that accounts for about 60% of RBI’s total revenue, saw same-store sales decline by 1.4% during the quarter and the company’s shares (QSR) took a 3.78% hit on the New York Stock Exchange yesterday.

As for the 2019 Chicken Wars, the fowl appear to be the only losers. “In August, USA Today conducted an unscientific Chicken Sandwich Bracket Twitter poll,” Tyko reports. “In the first round, the top seed Chick-fil-A easily took down KFC with more than 80% of the vote while chicken sandwich newcomer Popeyes vanquished Wendy's, capturing 69% of the vote, to set up the final round we all expected.

In the final round, 54% of the 5,062 votes cast were for Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A and 46% for Popeyes."

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