Sell more stuff: The ‘Chicken Sandwich Wars’ Are Back. Did It Impact Your Sales?

by Paul Schlossberg
Posted On: 12/20/2019

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This is not a fictional report. The “chicken sandwich wars” are a real thing. Maybe you missed it. Or, were you a participant? Did you make a chicken sandwich purchase at one of chains involved? What is even more important is that you should know if you lost sales. Did some of your shoppers venture into the fray to grab lunch at one of the combatant’s restaurants?

If you’re a history buff, you’ll know that this poultry-based fight cannot compare with history’s longest running wars. Wikipedia has a List of Conflicts by Duration. There are 68 wars with a time span of 100 years or more.

The chicken sandwich wars made for big news starting last summer. There were reports on network and local television news. Trade press coverage in the food industry was frequent and in depth. Social media was buzzing with individuals sharing postings, photos and opinions on their personal preferences.

It would be something special if you could get such a social media reaction to any one of the many products you’re selling. What can we learn from this modern-day warfare in product marketing and promotion?

Let’s explore the chicken sandwich wars. Are you aware of which companies were involved in this chicken conflict? Do you know when it began?

NBC News reported on Aug. 20: “Popeyes started a chicken sandwich war with Chick-fil-A. This is why they'll win it.” They noted that other restaurant chains got involved including Wendy’s, Bojangles, Shake Shack (and more).

Think about it this way -- if “everyone” is talking about Popeyes and Chick-fil-A, these other restaurant chains had to defend their chicken sandwich sales. They did not want to lose lunchtime traffic and sales if their own loyal shoppers were tempted to try a chicken sandwich at Popeyes or Chick-fil-A.

Think about it again -- you’ll realize that some of those people (described as “everyone” in the paragraph above) might be your loyal shoppers. It makes you wonder how many of them did get involved in the chicken sandwich combat when they purchased a sandwich at Popeyes or Chick-fil-A -- or maybe both. You might have “lost” lunch traffic and sales for two days.

There were reports of long lines at participating restaurants from both chains. Stores ran out of inventory. Sales obviously exceeded forecasted levels. The supply chain could not be balanced to catch up to the promotional surge of volume. Everyone was disappointed to say the least -- especially the people who wanted to buy the sandwiches at local restaurants.

This out-of-stock challenge is something our industry understands. We have seen new products sell through far beyond any expectations of anticipated volume. For those who recall it, among the most renowned product introductions for vending was Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Treats. It sold out in what seemed like a flash. Managing the pipeline was incredibly difficult.

Eventually what was the first round of the chicken sandwich wars ended. Then round #2 was announced. “The Chicken Sandwich Wars Are Back On,” read the Wall Street Journal headline on Oct. 28. The sub-headline went on to say: “Popeyes’ popular sandwich comes back Sunday, Nov. 3, which is good news for customers and investors.” And that kicked off round #2 in the fight between Popeyes and Chick-fil-A.

Even Taco Bell joined the second round of the chicken sandwich wars. The nrn.com news was “Taco Bell jumps on fried chicken craze with Crispy Tortilla Chicken.” For Taco Bell, the introduction of fried chicken strips with a (spicy) dipping sauce was a new menu category. The introduction was on “…Thursday (Nov. 21) in more than 170 restaurants in Houston and Dayton, Ohio.”  

Did you know that the chicken sandwich wars were happening? Or did you miss the news?

Do you sell a chicken sandwich? If you do, did you publicize and promote your product during the chicken sandwich wars? If “everyone” is talking about chicken sandwiches, you should be talking about your chicken sandwich.

Do you want to sell more stuff? Pay attention to what “everyone” is talking about -- especially if it could impact your sales.

PAUL SCHLOSSBERG
Paul Schlossberg is president of D/FW Consulting, working with clients to merchandise and market products in impulse-intense selling environments, such as vending, onsite foodservice and convenience stores. Based in the Austin, TX, area, he can be reached by emailing to Paul@DFWConsulting.net, calling him at (972) 877-2972. The company is online at www.DFWConsulting.net