The chicken sandwich is quickly becoming America’s choice for a quick meal.

McDonald's opens fire

After much buzz about the so-called chicken sandwich wars in 2019, McDonald’s Corp. announced plans to roll out its own trio of chicken sandwiches in February 2021. This is a clear signal the chicken sandwich is now a leading convenience and comfort food of the American diner.

The hamburger is not dethroned yet. An October 2019 report from QSR magazine said in the first half of that year nearly three burgers were ordered for every chicken sandwich, or 6.4 billion to 2.3 billion. However, long-term consumption trends show beef consumption dropping while chicken continues to rise.

Chicken is profitable

Chicken is a commercial success for those who focus on the protein. An April 2020 report published by Statista said there were more than 15,000 restaurants in the U.S. run by the 17 chicken-focused chains with more than 40 locations.

Chicken sandwich purveyor Chick-fil-A Inc., according to Nation’s Restaurant News, brought in $12.67 billion in total sales in 2019. That places the chain behind only Starbucks Corp.’s coffee chain and McDonald’s in terms of sales. Those two operate more than 13,000 locations in the U.S. each compared to Chick-fil-A’s 2,400 locations.

Impact for integrators

Increased demand and attention for chicken is a positive for everyone. Those supplying large chains like McDonald’s or Chick-fil-A will feel the direct benefit, but a long-term shift in demand toward chicken is good for everyone involved.

The industry should closely watch how consumer trends shift as COVID-19 continues to color American life. Even with a vaccine entering the scene, the pandemic drags on. I predict chains with established drive-through or delivery operations and deep pockets will survive now and flourish later as more small businesses fold. Quick-serve restaurant demand could be a short and long-term bright spot for integrators.