Chicken Sandwich Wars

Frenik Labs' Blog: Social Media Marketing Insights

The #ChickenSandwichWars of 2019


Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve almost certainly heard of the Chicken Sandwich Wars between Popeye’s and Chick-fil-a upon the introduction of Popeye’s new all white meat chicken sandwich.


On August 12th, Popeye’s announced the release of their new chicken sandwich, subsequently receiving minimal press.


However, Chick-fil-a posted this tweet that would later break the internet.


Once Chick-fil-a fired the first shot across the bow, all bets were off, and the public took their cue to hitch onto the chicken sandwich war bandwagon. What came of this battle was a viral internet explosion, resulting in an estimated $65 million in media value from the thousands of tweets, Facebook posts, shared content, and more.


Popeye’s, which was purchased in 2017 by Restaurant Brands International, is now top-of-mind for many Americans when it comes to fast food thanks to the flurry of publicity. However, the restaurant has come under criticism for selling out of the new sandwiches so quickly. Although the chain aggressively forecasted demand, Popeye’s said this week that they had sold their allotment of chicken sandwiches through the end of September, so it may be several weeks before customers are able to once again indulge in the delicacy.


The Evolution of Popeye’s


This has turned out to be the perfect storm for Popeye’s, entering into a chicken sandwich space with cult followings. Although Chick-fil-a did not technically “invent” the chicken sandwich, they have created a unique image as the original home of the chicken sandwich. The success and growth of Chick-fil-A may have been part of the catalyst for Popeye’s brand makeover in the late 2000s, when they changed their name from “Popeye’s Chicken ‘n Biscuits” to “Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen”. It’s been cited by many, both inside and outside of the organization, that there has been a lasting stigma with Popeye’s and Chick-fil-a, the latter being synonymous with urban neighborhoods. While the restaurant has pushed to expand into more suburban markets in recent years, it wasn’t until the Chicken Sandwich wars of 2019 that they have been able to prove themselves as a true competitor to Chick-fil-a.


Why Chicken?


So, why has fried chicken been exploding? As it turns out, this is not a new phenomenon. In 2008, an analyst told the New York Times that fried chicken sandwiches were the fastest growing food segment in the fast food industry. More than 10 years later, the growth has remained. Euromonitor International’s data shows that between 2011 and 2016, chicken sales in fast food restaurants soared more than 42%. As chicken-based restaurants like Chick-fil-a were exploding, other restaurants adjusted to keep up. Shake Shack introduced their “Chick’n Shack” sandwich and McDonald’s introduced a buttermilk fried chicken sandwich, but neither received the hype of Popeye’s chicken renaissance.


So, who’s the winner?


Well, it depends on who you ask. Some might say Chick-fil-a. Some may say Popeye’s. Some people think it’s the lucky Popeye’s and Chick-fil-a franchisees who’ve seen record sales over the past several weeks. We’re inclined to agree that in a viral social media war between two of the most notorious chicken purveyors in the world that the only losers are the restaurants who are not onboard with the chicken bandwagon or those who’ve failed to utilize this virality to their advantage. For instance, McDonalds franchisees have been begging the chain to introduce a competitive fried chicken sandwich since the not-so-spicy release of their buttermilk chicken sandwich. At least until Popeye’s is able to restock their chicken sandwiches, we expect many happy Chick-fil-a franchisees, as this will certainly become the go-to for the time being despite the massive success of Popeye’s sandwich.


The lesson for the consumer


If you ask Chick-fil-a, they’d likely answer that the lesson is reminiscent of their slogan, “eat mor chikin”. However, we would argue that the lesson is one in marketing. This huge win for Popeye’s and Chick-fil-a was less about the quality of either sandwich and more about their ability to get people talking about chicken. GDS&M, the firm that handles Popeye’s social media strategy fired the social media response that was heard ‘round the world and sparked a viral response from the internet resulting in over $65 million in free media and advertising. Whether you’re in the chicken sandwich business, the advertising business, or any other category, this case study equally proves the power of a trending topic in a hyper-connected world.


The Best Tweets of the #chickensandwichwars


We’re all about learning, but for entertainment’s sake, here are some of the best tweets and posts of the #chickensandwichwars.


  1. Wendy’s decided to take a stab at both chains to drum up some business.
  2. Boston Market tried their hand to start a mac ‘n cheese war.
  3. Truer words have never been spoken…
  4. They knew what we were all thinking about Boston Market!
  5. Could chicken be more of a threat than we realize?
  6. Poor Bojangles never stood a chance…
  7. Seriously, why?