Food

KFC and Popeyes duke it out for spicy wing sovereignty

During the height of wing season, the two chicken chains are taking to a new battleground in the aftermath of the chicken sandwich wars.
Popeyes and KFC wings
Both KFC and Popeyes introduced spicy wings this fall to tie into football. | Photos courtesy of KFC and Popeyes.

Wings are the latest ammunition in chains’ chicken wars, taking over the battlefield from the long-reigning crispy chicken sandwich.

Earlier this month, KFC and Popeyes both introduced spicy chicken wings, timed in sync with the surge in wing eating that happens during football season.

Popeyes was first onto the field, announcing the debut of Sweet ‘n Spicy Wings on Aug. 22. Its wings are marinated, fried with a crispy coating and tossed in a blend of chili, garlic and ginger. By the beginning of September, Popeyes’ social media feeds showed long lines of cars waiting to try the wings at the chain’s drive-thrus.

Miami-based Popeyes soon boasted that Sweet ‘n Spicy Wings have become the most popular new product introduction since its blockbuster chicken sandwich, launched late in 2019. It was that sandwich that started the ongoing Chicken Sandwich Wars. Popeyes’ same-store sales rose nearly a record-breaking 40% that quarter.

Not to be outdone on the wing front, Louisville-based Kentucky Fried Chicken debuted Hot & Spicy Wings on Sept. 7. These wings get their heat from a spicy marinade, then they’re double-coated in KFC’s signature extra-crispy breading and fried.

To lure wing-loving football fans, both chicken chains are offering special deals on their new wings. At KFC, customers can score eight wings for $4.99, while Popeyes is selling six wings for $5.99.

KFC is using that price difference as a marketing weapon. In a news release announcing the launch, Nick Chavez, CMO of KFC U.S. said “Bench the other players. Why get 6 wings for $5.99 when you can start our 8 pc. Hot & Spicy Wings instead for just $4.99?”

KFC is also building a marketing campaign with Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders; the former NFL star and his family appear in a video calling the wings “legendary.”

Meanwhile, Popeyes' marketing ties into National Grandmothers Day on Oct. 8, claiming the slightly sweet and slightly spicy flavor profile of its wings is “just like a sweet and spicy Southern grandma.”

Wings are not a new thing for either chain. Popeyes previously turned up the heat with Ghost Pepper Wings, which returned as an LTO in May. And KFC offered Kentucky Fried Chicken Wings for a limited time. But now these two dominant fast-food chicken companies are going head-to-head to snag heat-seeking football fans during the height of wing season.  

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