Why the Popeye's chicken sandwich is going viral

A chicken sandwich better than Chic-fil-A?

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(Wolterk | Bigstock)
(Wolterk | Bigstock)

I couldn’t believe it when I saw it: A chicken sandwich better than Chick-fil-A.

On August 12 2019, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Inc. launched a new fried chicken sandwich at more than 3,000 restaurants. So far, the sandwich is getting rave reviews to the tune of “Popeyes' new chicken sandwich convinced us that we never need to go back to Chick-fil-A.”

Overnight success?

A company statement described the new Popeyes sandwich as a buttermilk-battered and hand-breaded white meat chicken fillet topped with pickles and spicy Cajun spread, served on a toasted brioche bun. The sandwich sells for $3.99.

The plaudits are impressive: “The Popeyes chicken sandwich is better than Chick-fil-A’s;” “The rumors are true: Popeyes' fried chicken sandwich is better than Chick-fil-A's” and “Popeyes’ First Fried Chicken Sandwich Is the Best New Thing in Fast Food.” On Twitter, the sandwich is a hot topic of discussion.

Punching above its weight

Popeyes, owned by Restaurant Brands International Inc. (RBI), operates more than 3,100 restaurants in the U.S. and around the world. In July 2019, RBI announced plans to open 1,500 more restaurants in China. Along with Popeyes, RBI owns Burger King and Tim Hortons, and operates 26,000 restaurants in over 100 countries and the U.S., making it one of the largest quick-serve restaurant companies in the world.

Chick-fil-A on the other hand, operates more than 2,300 stores, according to Nation’s Restaurant News. The chain brought in $10.5 billion in total sales in 2018, placing it behind only McDonald’s Corp. and Starbucks Corp. in terms of sales, despite operating only six days a week.The restaurant, which calls itself the home of the original chicken sandwich, certainly punches above its weight. By comparison, McDonalds operates more than 13,900 stores and Starbucks operates more than 14,600 in the U.S. alone.

Inspired by Chick-fil-A’s success

The sincerest form of flattery is imitation. Popeyes' sandwich seems to be heavily inspired by the Chick-fil-A version. Its sandwich, a fried chicken breast and pickles on a buttered bun, is the cornerstone of the franchise. Of course, its competitors are looking to match or beat it in the category.

While Popeyes released its product to great fanfare, McDonalds’ franchisees won attention of their own in July 2019 when they implored the chain to put a sandwich on the market that can compete with Chick-fil-A.

That letter suggested McDonald’s bring back the so-called southern style chicken sandwich then butter the roll and serve it in a foil bag as Chic-fil-A does. CNBC noted McDonalds began testing what it called an ultimate chicken sandwich in October 2018. The golden arches is also expected to debut a spicy chicken sandwich as well as spicy chicken tenders in 2019.

We’ll need to see how the Popeyes sandwich performs (and I guess I will need to eat one soon). If the new sandwich is able to take some customers away from Chick-fil-A, it could prove to other quick-serve restaurant chains that it’s possible to compete by imitating the Georgia-based brand.

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