This summer, Popeyes Cajun chicken sandwich was a cultural phenomenon. Will the product capture attention – and stoke the conversation about chicken sandwiches – now that it’s returned?

Sandwich wars

In August 2019, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen launched a new fried chicken sandwich that created long lines at restaurants around the country. Just two weeks after it was introduced, the product sold out entirely. It was re-launched to somewhat less fanfare but still high demand in November 2019.

Early reviews claimed the Cajun sandwich is better than Chick-fil-A’s original chicken sandwich. At launch, people turned out in droves to find out for themselves. The brand, owned by Restaurant Brands International Inc. (RBI), saw a marketing opportunity and leaned into an online spat with Chick-fil-A that went viral as people debated the issue online.

Surprise attack or protracted conflict?

The sandwich was a winner for RBI, who saw its overall sales shoot up 15.6% the quarter it was briefly available. Now, it needs to prove the product is here to last both in stores and on the balance sheet.

A lot of magic of the moment went into the launch. Will people come back when the novelty wears off? If the sandwich is a success for RBI, it’s a sign Chick-fil-A’s product can be imitated by others in the space. If it’s a relative failure, it proves the Popeyes sandwich was just a flavor of the month.

Either way, Chick-fil-A will keep inspiring imitators. The chain operates 2,300 stores in the U.S. and its sales reportedly trail only McDonald's and Starbucks.

A cause for hope

The neutral members of the chicken industry should watch closely. Although the burger and fries defined American dining for decades, the chicken breast sandwich emerging as a top choice – and reason to eat somewhere – is exciting for chicken overall. When consumption goes up, everyone wins.