Popeyes’ chicken sandwich could open up new markets

The success of the product could help the chain break into areas it might have not considered before, franchisee Carrols says.
Photograph by Jonathan Maze

It’s abundantly clear that Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen’s new chicken sandwich has been a big deal for the brand.

So much so, in fact, that it could affect even where the brand opens locations.

Dan Accordino, CEO of Popeyes franchisee Carrols Restaurant Group, said the sandwich attracted so many new customers to the chain that he believes it opens up geographies the company might not have considered before.

Customers of the sandwich are more likely to be female, and the product unlocked the lunch business that had been lacking beforehand with the primarily bone-in chicken concept.

“It’s a game changer,” Accordino said at the ICR Conference this week. “There was a change in demographic. It’s providing us with opportunities we might have otherwise passed on in markets where we currently operate Burger King restaurants.”

On Monday, Carrols said that same-store sales at its Popeyes locations rose 21.2% in the fourth quarter, which portends a remarkably strong three-month stretch for the brand nationwide.

Popeyes introduced its chicken sandwich in August, and the product’s popularity skyrocketed after the company sent out a tweet poking at rival Chick-fil-A, saying “Y’all good?” The result generated shockingly long lines and drained the company of two months’ supply of chicken sandwiches in two weeks.

An eight-week layoff didn’t hurt interest in the sandwich, either. Its November return to the chain led to continued strong sales.

Accordino said that some locations were selling as many as 1,100 sandwiches per day when the frenzy started in late August, and though it has settled down, the company is still selling a meaningful amount of the product.

“I don’t think there’s been anything like it,” he said, noting that in testing, his restaurants were selling about 110 sandwiches per day. “We have some restaurants that were up 50%-60%.”

Popeyes is now using the chicken sandwich to market its new delivery service. The chain is giving away free chicken sandwiches this week to introduce its national deal with third-party service DoorDash.

Accordino believes the chicken sandwich had a big impact on much of the fast-food business and not just other chicken chains—he believes that Restaurant Brands International, which owns Popeyes as well as Burger King, “cannibalized itself” somewhat with the chicken sandwich.

He said that Carrols’ Burger King sales worsened in November and December after Popeyes reintroduced the chicken sandwich. “November and December weren’t nearly as robust as we expected,” Accordino said of his company’s Burger King locations, which generated 2% same-store sales growth last quarter.

Carrols, based in Syracuse, N.Y., operates more than 1,000 Burger King restaurants and 65 Popeyes locations.

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