Chicken Wars Update

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When the infamous ‘Chicken Wars’ first kicked off the summer of 2019, it laid the foundation for one of the most incredible stories of brand lift in the QSR space – catapulting Popeyes to newfound heights. But as interesting as the initial surge was, the subsequent October bump and the wider effect it had of driving more players into the Chicken Sandwich mix may have been even more meaningful.

The result was a scenario that intertwined chicken and QSR success. So where do things stand at the moment? We dove into QSR’s chicken-sandwich leaders to find out.

The Long Term Chicken Bump

The initial surges that Popeyes enjoyed in August and October of 2019 went far beyond short-term bumps and fundamentally shifted the positioning of the brand. When looking at 2021 monthly visits compared to 2019, the declines we might expect due to lingering COVID restrictions and shifts in consumer behavior are replaced instead by impressive growth numbers. Popeyes visits for the first five months of 2021 were up over the equivalent months in 2019 by an average of 21.6%. 

This massive jump shows that the brand succeeded in turning the initial wave of chicken sandwich driven visits into loyal customers and a wider overall audience.

Growth Within a Thriving Sector – Where is it Trending?

And the positioning is fascinating, especially within a wider sector on the in-store visit comeback. These QSR brands were able to succeed throughout the pandemic because of their diverse array of external channels, from drive-thru to takeaway and delivery. But as traditional work and school routines increasingly return, they have seen in-store dining grow as well. 

Each brand analyzed saw their strongest month in April when comparing visits to their 2019 equivalent. This boost, likely driven heavily by a re-opening fueled sense of ‘first time demand’, was balanced out by a slight step back in May when looking at visits along the same 2019 comparison. This positive trend is very likely to see an added kick as more key states, like California and New York, fully reopen in the coming months. Additionally, the ongoing return of routines and ‘normal’ shopping patterns, alongside the uniquely strong alignment with key economic trends should help support an even stronger recovery trend for the sector in the coming months.

The Latest Entry

Burger King’s entry into the mix – the Ch’King – launched in early June adding the player into the thick of the Chicken Wars race. And timing is interesting, as the brand has seen a strong recovery pattern for in-store dining in recent months. After seeing visits down over 25% in January and February when compared to 2019, the last three months saw visit gaps of just 11.7%, 11.1% and 14.5% respectively.

And the momentum has been fairly continuous. Looking at visits week over week shows a consistent pattern of regular growth apart from a two week period mid-April. But the impact of the Ch’King could add more fuel to the fire. Visits during the launch weekend, measuring Thursday through Sunday, were 3.6% higher than the weekend prior even though that weekend fell on Memorial Day. Should the growth rate continue to improve, it could provide yet another indication of the power of the chicken sandwich in QSR.

Will chicken surges continue to drive excitement in the QSR space?

Visit Placer.ai to find out.

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