KFC's U.S. sales thrive, thanks to digital and chicken sandwiches

The tightening of chicken supplies is making it difficult to keep up with demand. Sister chains Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Habit all saw sales grow over 2019 levels.
KFC U.S. sales surge
Image courtesy of KFC

All four of Yum Brands' concepts saw strong sales in the first quarter as consumers eager to eat out flooded the chains’ drive-thrus and digital channels with orders—easily besting 2019 numbers in its U.S. markets.

KFC, which introduced its new chicken sandwich in the quarter in the U.S., saw same-store sales rise 14% in the quarter, which ended March 31. On a two-year basis, however, the chain’s sales rose 11%.

The company has seen strong results over the past year as consumers ordered buckets of chicken for dinner. But it also introduced its chicken sandwich nationally in February—bringing about an important line of business for the traditional bone-in chain.

David Gibbs, the company’s CEO, said on Wednesday that the sandwich generated “more than twice the volumes of prior chicken sandwich launches.” He noted that some “general tightening” of chicken supplies in April is its biggest issue. “Our main challenge is keeping up with that demand,” Gibbs said on Yum’s first-quarter earnings call.

It wasn’t just KFC, however. All four of the chain’s generated strong sales during the quarter. Gibbs said that each one of them set at least one weekly per-restaurant sales record during the first three months of the year. And both KFC and Pizza Hut around the world recovered past due royalties and other expenses as franchisees recovered financially from the pandemic. 

Taco Bell, meanwhile, said that same-store sales rose 9%. On a two-year basis those sales rose 10%. The brand is “hitting on all cylinders,” Gibbs said, thanks to its digital business and product innovation, along with improving international growth.

At Pizza Hut, U.S. same-store sales rose 16% in the quarter, and 8% over 2019. The company has closed hundreds of its traditional dine-in units, which have seen diminishing business in recent years as consumers shifted their pizza ordering to delivery options. Same-store sales for takeout and delivery rose 23% in the quarter.

Yum’s newest concept, Habit Burger Grill, said its same-store sales rose 13% for the quarter and 3% on a two-year basis.

Sales results for restaurants so far this year have been particularly strong—in many cases fully recovering from any pandemic-related losses, thanks largely to stimulus payments and a consumer clearly eager to go out as the economy reopens.

Globally, Yum said its systemwide sales rose 11% while same-store sales rose 9% at all of its brands worldwide. The company also said that it generated $5 billion of digital system sales in the first quarter. Gibbs noted that “uncertainties remain due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19 in many geographies” but noted the company has “a long runway of growth ahead of us.”

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include some details from Yum’s first-quarter earnings call on Wednesday.

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