Chicken Wars: ‘Winter’ is Coming?

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There were few stories that captivated the fast food industry like the ‘Chicken Wars’ of 2019. And much of this went far beyond the initial surge and centered around the fundamental shift it caused for Popeyes – leading to a near year-long run of ongoing growth.

But, the next round is on its way and the combination of new competitors and a rising giant in the sector could make for an interesting season as the Chicken Wars hit their first anniversary.

Who’s Trending?

One of the biggest elements of the initial wave of chicken sandwich fervor was the long-term impact it made on Popeyes. Looking at the first seven months of 2020, Popeyes saw a 23.4% increase in visits compared to the first seven months of 2019, all this during the height of a global pandemic.

Yet, it does appear that the sector is resetting. Popeyes visits, while still hugely impressive, have been returning to more “normal” levels with July 2020 visits up 7.8% compared to an increase of 23.1% year over year in May. And the competitive landscape is rising, with Chick-fil-A seeing visit numbers return closer to 2019 levels each month. Even smaller brands like Checkers and Rally’s could pose a more significant threat with these brands seeing year-over-year growth of 3.2% and 16.1% respectively in July of 2020.

Rising Giant

Over the last few weeks Popeyes has been trending down, albeit from an insanely high peak,  and KFC, Checkers and Rally’s have been holding relatively steady. This steadiness places an added spotlight on Chick-fil-A, the sector’s giant, who has been consistently seeing visit rates increase closer to 2019 levels. And while the brand is still down, it is critical to note that Chick-fil-A still saw nearly three times the number of overall visits as Popeyes, and dramatically more than either Checkers or Rally’s. So, while the declines are important, there is a context to Chick-fil-A’s unique level of fast food dominance.

Where Will the Visits Go?

Had this conversation taken place a few months ago, it would have been a near foregone conclusion that Popeyes would continue its run for the ages. However, the luster has begun to fade and the king of the chicken sandwich looks to have a real threat to the throne. Chick-fil-A is rising again and the range of newer competitors that could potentially steal traffic presents a real threat to the brands ongoing growth.

How will round two of the Chicken Wars play out? Visit Placer.ai to find out.

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