This suggests brands should tread lightly in pricing when entering or engaging in the chicken sandwich wars. While clearly in demand, it’s still not seen as quite the indulgent experience beef is.
Gen Z presented the highest percentage of respondents self-reporting they were spending more on quick service when compared to pre-COVID times. One explanation, RMS said, could be they’re visiting fewer casual-dining restaurants and counter service is filling the void.
Fifty-seven percent of Gen Z reported spending more on food when visiting a quick-service restaurant—higher than any other age group: millennials (46 percent), Gen Z (38 percent), Boomers (31 percent).
To dive deeper into the chicken sandwich craze and where we go from here, QSR chatted with Matt Voda, CEO of OptiMine and a nationally recognized expert in marketing strategy. He’s advised brands from Bed Bath & Beyond to American Girl in the past.
Will the battle fizzle out? Will it take off even more? Why was Popeyes so successful? Let’s jump in.
Chicken sandwiches appear on 47.8 percent of total U.S. restaurant menus—why is this menu option so big right now and why is marketing at the forefront of this trend?
This menu option has followed the overall chicken consumption growth in the US- or perhaps, it is one of the reasons that chicken is the most-consumed meat in the US. Either way, Americans consume more chicken than any other meat, surpassing beef, pork, and fish. See USDA chart here.
There may be many reasons for the overall chicken consumption growth and the large presence on restaurant menus: a perception that chicken is a healthier protein choice, fear over red meat consumption, costs, or perhaps that for many Americans, it tastes good.
From a marketing perspective, there are likely several objectives at play. First, awareness is a primary driver. If you are a restaurateur, and you believe you have a superior chicken sandwich, you want as many people to know about it, and ultimately to convince them to try it. If we were using a sports analogy, we’d consider this “going on offense.” Now, if you’re late to the game, and you could put McDonald’s in this category strange as that sounds, you are now required to play catchup AND defense at the same time. The second marketing driver is to protect and defend your core business, especially if you are worried that other chains have gained chicken sandwich momentum and are draining customers and market share away from your brand. This probably explains why the Golden Arches moved so quickly to try another formulation of chicken.
Chicken sandwiches are soaring thanks to the success of Popeyes version—what sort of marketing initiatives have made the menu option so successful for them?
At OptiMine, one of our marketing measurement goals is to identify the non-marketing factors driving the business. While initially counterintuitive, this approach actually makes it clearer how much marketing and advertising is contributing versus all other factors. In many cases, the non-marketing factors drive a larger share sales variance. Why does this matter? Well, in the case of restaurants, you cannot ignore the role of the actual food in the sales picture. Popeyes chicken sandwich was a winner, because the sandwich is great. If Popeyes' chicken sandwich was not great when they launched it in 2019, there’s no amount of marketing that would have fixed that fundamental and fatal flaw.
Starting with a great menu item in 2019, Popeyes was then able to leverage marketing, and in particular, social media, to spread this good news, positive reviews and convince new customers to try the sandwich. It didn’t hurt that they began to run out of the sandwiches as this perpetuated the mythical sandwiches’ status. If you can’t have something, you want it more- especially when your friends and family are posting about it on social media.