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The Chicken Wars Victor & The Key Takeaway

Ethan Chernofsky
August 26, 2019
The Chicken Wars Victor & The Key Takeaway

In a week that is turning out to be heavily focused on Chicken, we dove into the recent ‘Chicken Wars’ craze that pitted Popeyes new chicken sandwich against Chick-Fil-A. Admittedly, we expected to see a jump, as many new products and offerings can deliver a boost to in-store visits. Yet, even when there is a big social media buzz, it doesn’t always translate into action or direct results.

However, in this case, the results far surpassed our expectations. 

Establishing a Baseline

Popeyes is by no means a slouch when it comes to driving sustained interest among its audience. Looking at the restaurant’s visits compared to the baseline over the 12 month period between August 2018 and July 2019 shows a brand that has shown consistent and sustained growth. Thus far, 2019 has produced impressive results with June producing particularly strong visit rates. Yet, August is not a particularly strong time for the brand, with 2018 seeing visit rates consistently drop below the period’s baseline and 2019 visit rates trending down at the end of July.

Riding the Chicken War Wave

The relative slowness of late July and August make last week’s performance all the more impressive. On August 20th and 21st, traffic to Popeyes branches nationwide rose 67.6% and 103.3% respectively above the baseline for the summer thus far - June 1st 2019 through August 21st. This is an outrageously high peak that shows that the buzz wasn’t just on social sites, but actually pushed people out of the house and into a location.

Chick-Fil-A Context

But to truly appreciate the tremendous excitement that Popeyes created, you must make a comparison with the current King of Chicken - Chick-Fil-A. To begin, we took the same 12-month view of Chick-Fil-A. Not surprisingly, the ‘Home of the Original Chicken Sandwich’  sees a similar traffic pattern with a dip in August before a rise throughout the winter and spring.

And this provides the critical context. Not only did Popeyes see a spike during a period when a dip might be expected for their own stores. They drove a massive increase in visits when even a similar giant of the sector sees a drop. This graph compares both brands to their respective baselines for the period, so while Chick-Fil-A has many more visitors in absolute numbers, Popeyes saw huge value from the campaign.

Conclusion - Why The Chicken Wars Should Learn From Prime Day

August is not normally peak season for Chick-Fil-A or Popeyes, yet this year Popeyes shattered any realistic expectations of how good their new sandwich could perform. When we extend the analyzed period from June 1st, 2018 through August 21st of 2019, we see two days that rose 88.7% and 128.9% above the baseline for the period. These are insanely high numbers, but there are opportunities for both brands to extend this value far beyond the summer of 2019.

The build-up of excitement could be leveraged to make ‘Chicken Wars’ an annual ‘event’ that both brands could utilize. This is exactly what Amazon did with Prime Day or what Starbucks does with its myriad of deals and product releases. They see something that works and then they double down and do it even bigger the next year. Can exciting new chicken sandwiches come to mean for summer what Pumpkin Spice Lattes means for the winter? 

It’s up to these brands to find out.

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