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At fast casuals, fried chicken flies the coop

fried chicken sandwich fries

Grilled chicken is gaining traction on fast-casual sandwich menus, growing by nearly 12 percent since last year, while its fried counterpart is slipping behind, according to data from Chicago-based researcher Technomic.

Concepts increasing their chicken offerings are likely playing to diners’ desire for healthy, affordable menu items, says Deanna Jordan, senior research analyst at Technomic. This may help explain why grilled items, often touted as healthier options, are seeing particular growth.

Increasing demand for customization plays a part, too, Jordan says, although “health is a key reason consumers want to customize.” 

Perhaps prompted by this focus on health, fried-chicken sandwiches menued at fast casuals have fallen by more than 9 percent since 2014, Technomic data shows. 

Though the reverse is true on QSR sandwich menus—fried chicken’s growth is outpacing grilled’s by nearly 7 percentage points—recent QSR additions signal that that segment also sees potential for gains on the non-fried side.

Wendy’s began testing a new grilled chicken sandwich in July, and a group of McDonald’s operators in Tampa Bay, Fla., are trying out a ground-chicken burger that comes in two varieties: “classic,” featuring ranch sauce and red onions and “tangy,” with a signature sauce and grilled onions.

Consumers’ preference for customizable options has also upped the inclusion of chicken in McDonald’s recent testing ground of San Diego, where the chain is trying out a menu of Chef-Crafted Flavors sandwiches that allows customers to choose between a beef patty, fried chicken or grilled chicken for their protein.

As beef costs continue to climb, concepts may see even further demand for diverse chicken-sandwich offerings. Twenty-six percent of restaurant customers are choosing chicken more often as a result of rising beef costs, Technomic data shows, while 10 percent are visiting more restaurants specializing in chicken dishes.

 

Technomic is owned by Winsight Media, Restaurant Business’ parent company. 

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