Chicken Wars Reboot

Cue Game of Thrones-esque music that combines suspense and a sense of impending battle. 

In nearly a year since the onset of the Chicken Wars, Popeyes has ridden its chicken sandwich fame to new heights, Chick-fil-A has continued along with its normal strength and a new player, KFC, is looking to maximize its namesake and enter the battle.

With a new challenger entering the fray we decided to dive into the chicken landscape to see just how high Popeyes has really risen, what the impact of the pandemic has been, and how well-positioned KFC truly is to compete in this space.

Popeyes – The New King?

When Popeyes first launched the chicken sandwich last summer, the concern was that the initial buzz was a social media creation that would be difficult, if not impossible, to recreate. Yet, the second peak during the fall relaunch was even more successful, driving a new peak at levels far beyond the initial launch.

And the product was clearly more than just buzz, showing tremendous staying power. In January and February 2020, visits were 63.5% and 56.1% higher than in the same months in 2019. While the pandemic did put a damper on growth, the increases were so significant that even amidst the COVID crisis, visits in March and April were still up 6.9% and 2.6% year-over-year.

Chick-fil-A: Is the Leader at Risk?

Short answer, no.

While Popeyes has had a truly tremendous rise, Chick-fil-A’s overall lead is significant. In fact, at no point has Popeyes come within 2 million visits of Chick-fil-A.

And while the pandemic did have a major impact on visits, the brand is clearly on the road to recovery. Looking at week-over-week changes in visits shows some ups and downs, but a clear pattern towards recovery with an average change of 11% growth each week, and this still without a full reopening nationwide.

Looking at daily visits makes the point even more clear, with visits moving back towards normalcy after reaching a low point in late March and early April.

KFC – Is there a chance?

Maybe.

KFC is also in the midst of its recovery with visits moving back towards ‘normalcy’ for the first time since early March. The first Friday in May, a day that consistently drives big interest for the brand, saw visits rise 12.1% above the baseline for the period from January 1, 2019, through May 25th, 2020. Yet, this number was still down around 30% year-over-year for the equivalent day.

And there is a lot of ground to make up. While KFC had been outperforming Popeyes in terms of visits, that changed with the relaunch of the Chicken Sandwich and Popeyes has yet to give up the lead since , not to mention the massive gap with Chick-fil-A. 

However, it is way too early to call it a match. KFC did have a long term lead and they have a clear association with fried chicken. Should the launch of the new product drive even some degree of lift, it could create a more fierce level of competition with Popeyes.

Conclusion?

So with a new player in the mix, could a summer reboot of the Chicken Wars provide some exciting changes in the poultry side of fast food? Possibly. Did last year’s battle prove out to be the boon Popeyes could only have dreamed of? Definitely. Does it also emphasize Chick-fil-A’s strength that the most incredible boost could only dent its lead? Absolutely.

How will the Chicken Wars continue to unfold? Visit Placer.ai to find out.

Ethan Chernofsky

Ethan Chernofsky

Ethan is the VP Marketing at Placer.ai and loves helping people reach their goals with location analytics.

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