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In the chicken sandwich business, Chick-fil-A remains king

Data from Edison Trends also shows the challenges McDonald’s faces in getting its market share back from Popeyes.
Chick fil a
Photo courtesy of Chick fil A

As the fast-food world pushes an ever-increasing number of chicken sandwich options, one thing remains clear: That world still belongs to Chick-fil-A.

According to data from Edison Trends, the Atlanta-based chicken sandwich chain remains the undisputed king of that particular market—it has an even greater share of the online market for fast-food chicken sandwiches now than it did before Popeyes introduced its version in 2019.

The report looked at online sales of chicken sandwiches at eight chains, including Chick-fil-A, Popeyes, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, Jack in the Box, Zaxby’s and KFC.

Among that group, Chick-fil-A held the biggest share of online sandwich sales at 45%. Nobody else had more than 20%.

The chicken sandwich market

Source: Edison Trends

Edison Trends uses e-commerce data from a nationally representative panel of millions of U.S. consumers. While the data doesn’t cover all customers for the respective chains, it provides a good picture of demand for a particular product—in this case chicken sandwiches, arguably the most competitive single product in the restaurant business right now. It’s a market that is much bigger today than it was two years ago.

Edison’s data helps explain why McDonald’s is so intent on upgrading its chicken sandwich. The Chicago-based burger giant will debut its new Crispy Chicken Sandwich nationally later this week. The sandwich, years in the making, is a direct shot at Chick-fil-A, its top competitor.

But it could also get share back from Popeyes, which introduced its chicken sandwich in 2019 to great fanfare, ran out of supplies, then reintroduced it in November of that year—after which it, however briefly, overtook Chick-fil-A as the top online seller of chicken sandwiches.

Popeyes’ share of that market has come back down to earth, however, though it maintains the second-largest share of the online chicken-sandwich market at 17% as of December, just ahead of McDonald’s at 16%.

Indeed, the Edison data demonstrates that Popeyes took as much market share from McDonald’s and from Wendy’s as it did from market leader Chick-fil-A.

The data also highlight the challenges for Miami-based Burger King. According to Edison Trends, the chain had just 4% of the online chicken sandwich market in December, roughly tied with the much smaller San Diego-based chain Jack in the Box, and well off the 7% share held by Wendy’s. Burger King is taking its chicken sandwich national this year.

Everybody else has already done so or is planning to. Wendy’s upgraded its chicken sandwiches last year and recently added a Jalapeno Popper version. KFC and McDonald’s are set to introduce theirs’ this month yet.

None of this appears to be hurting Chick-fil-A as of yet. In January 2019, according to Edison, the chain had 37% of the online chicken sandwich market, compared to 32% for McDonald’s. So despite all of these new entrants, Chick-fil-A actually grew its share of the market.

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