Popeyes takes share from Chick-fil-A and KFC

Based on Technomic data, the chain’s chicken sandwich frenzy was bad news for two big rivals. But now it faces pressure to get its supply chain back, says RB’s The Bottom Line.
Photograph by Jonathan Maze

the bottom line

Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen’s eight-day chicken sandwich frenzy, ignited with a single tweet, has been bad news for two top rivals: KFC and Chick-fil-A.

That, at least, is according to an analysis by Restaurant Business sister company Technomic, which used its Transaction Insights data to analyze the impact the demand for chicken sandwiches had on the three chains last month.

Transaction Insights uses data from 3 million customers and about 18 million monthly foodservice visits.

According to the analysis, Popeyes’ share of the market generated by the three chicken chains, along with Wendy’s, increased by 30% during the week of Aug. 19, when the sandwich wars were in full swing, compared with the previous four weeks.

Much of that share appears to have come from other chicken concepts. According to Technomic, the percentage of Chick-fil-A customers who went to Popeyes increased to 19% in August from 15% in July.

Meanwhile, 23% of KFC customers also visited a Popeyes in August, up from 19% in July.

Both of those chains saw their share of sales decline during the week of Aug. 19.

Wendy’s, interestingly enough, seemed to see no impact—or at least it held serve: The burger chain’s share of that market rose by 0.1% during the week of Aug. 19.

None of this is surprising. Popeyes operators have said privately that their sales were up in the 50% to 60% range during that week, when their restaurants generated long lines of customers willing to wait as much as 45 minutes to try a sandwich.

The shocking interest in the chicken sandwich clearly blindsided Popeyes, which generated only modest attention on Aug. 13 when it introduced a product it had been working on for years. The sandwich received rave reviews.

And then on Aug. 19, one week later, it subtweeted a Chick-fil-A tweet with a simple, “Y’all good?”

Just two words. And the result was a firestorm highly unusual even by today’s lightning-quick social media standards. Customers were buying up large numbers of sandwiches and selling them on the street. Some tried eBay. One person threatened to shoot employees in Houston after he was unable to get one.

Popeyes was planning to start marketing the sandwich, but supply concerns led it to hold off. Eight days later, the chain declared it was out of supply.

It’s uncertain when the sandwich might return. Some expect it to be back by the end of the month.

It’s important for Popeyes to get it back as soon as possible. Social media frenzies like this one have a tendency to come and go, putting more pressure on the company to find a way to keep up interest.

The often-used example comes from McDonald’s, which two years ago ordered more supplies than it thought it needed for its new Buttermilk Crispy Tenders—and ran out in just a few weeks.

It returned the product to the menu six weeks later, but by that point had lost all momentum. It wasn’t able to generate anywhere close to the level of interest it did the first time.

Popeyes faces the same risk. It also faces a choice when it comes to supply: Does it get enough product to supply the level of demand it experienced during the sandwich frenzy, or be conservative, risking a second surge from curious customers?

To be sure, these are good problems to have. And it’s safe to say that Popeyes is on the map for customers who want a chicken sandwich.

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