Though Popeyes certainly helped light the spark, the Chicken Sandwich Wars drew several other opponents. Chick-fil-A took to Twitter to claim its version predated the Popeyes’ sandwich, and a social media storm ensued that captivated the internet for more than a week. A comedy sketch on “Saturday Night Live” even parodied the popularity of Popeyes’ chicken sandwich, with Harry Styles playing an expat who’s oblivious to the chain’s cultural touchstones.
Popeyes ended up selling 203 million chicken sandwiches in the first year, which equated to a 38 percent increase in overall sales in 2019. By February 2021, the company shared a staggering statistic, revealing the scale of impact: After introducing the chicken sandwich, Popeyes’ average-unit volumes rose by $400,000, amounting to $1.8 million. Popeyes also opened 200 restaurants in 2021, propelling it past the 3,000-unit benchmark in the U.S. and Canada. The company even signed more development agreements than at any other time in the brand’s history.
“The Chicken Wars were lightning in a bottle for Popeyes. Having a great product was foundational, but we capitalized on a unique social media moment that became ownable for our brand,” Siddiqui says. “We posted the tweet heard around the world, ‘Y’all good?’, a playful nod at one of our friends in the chicken industry that embodied our Southern heritage while engaging early in the social conversation. We like to think we ignited the Chicken Wars, and we’re proud of everything that has happened since.”
Consumers’ hunger for the comforting, portable meal only grew throughout the pandemic. Soon, more than 20 fast-food brands had introduced chicken sandwiches to their menus, including Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Golden Chick, KFC, Fatburger, Church’s Chicken, BurgerFi, Zaxby’s, Fuku, Jack in the Box, Sonic, Carl’s Jr., Shake Shack, Pollo Campero, Bojangles, and more. Even concepts that weren’t necessarily known for chicken, like Taco Bell and Panda Express, tried to cash in on the trend.
“I also think the chicken craze was because of the cost; a lot of people don’t say that, but chicken is obviously cheaper than burgers or other meats,” says Troy Guard, chef and owner of Denver-based TAG Restaurant Group (TRG).