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Food

A brief history of the chicken sandwich wars

For more than a year, rival chains have been duking it out for chicken sandwich dominance, with new players continuing to enter the fray. Our timeline tracks the battles.
Illustration: Restaurant Business staff

The battle for chicken sandwich dominance began with little fanfare on August 12, 2019. That’s when Popeyes launched its now-famous fried chicken sandwich—a debut that went largely unnoticed until rival Chick-fil-A took to Twitter to tout its sandwich as the original. Popeyes retaliated with a gentle tweet dripping with Southern charm, and a social media frenzy ensued.

Within a week, there were huge lines of customers out the door at Popeyes' locations, and many completely sold out of fried chicken sandwiches for the day. The success of this one item was largely responsible for the 38% jump in Popeyes’ same store sales reported in Q4 2019.

It’s no surprise that other chicken concepts and quick-service chains wanted a piece of the action. Some already had fried chicken sandwiches on the menu but most were sorely in need of a refresh. Several brands had upgrades in the works prior to Popeyes' debut, but the Louisiana-inspired chain beat them to it. Still others saw big potential in the category and during the pandemic slowdown, tasked their culinary teams with developing a signature fried chicken sandwich that could rise above the rest.

The battle lines were drawn and new fried chicken sandwiches began to flow into the pipeline. Almost all boast a larger, juicier breast fillet, premium bun and crisp pickle slices. In the last 18 months, at least 20 new chain entries have been competing for victory.  Here’s how and when the major players have marched into combat.

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