At this point it’s easier to keep track of the fast-food chains that aren’t releasing new chicken sandwiches.
The latest entrant in the Great Chicken Sandwich War of 2021 is Burger King, which has been developing its own version and is apparently getting ready to roll it out this year, executives with big operator Carrols told investors earlier this week.
The Syracuse, N.Y.-based franchisee—Burger King’s largest, with 1,000 locations—said it plans to complete its rollout of the chicken sandwich to its restaurants by May. The company said it was “very encouraged” by the sandwich’s results in test markets.
According to Carrols, the sandwich is hand-breaded and somewhat unique in that it’s made with fresh chicken, rather than frozen.
Burger King itself would divulge little about the sandwich, though it didn’t exactly deny it. “The King must eat like a king,” the company said in a statement. “So, we’re constantly testing new items to satisfy his cravings. We don’t have details to share just yet because he hasn’t decided what’s next.”
An upgraded Burger King chicken sandwich would mean that each of the three largest burger chains, two of the three largest chicken chains, and numerous other competitors have all released upgraded chicken sandwiches over the past 15 months—or noted plans to do so. Wendy’s released its upgraded chicken sandwich last year, and McDonald’s plans to release its version nationally by the end of February.
The growing competition in the chicken sandwich business is an outgrowth of the immense success of Chick-fil-A—the fastest-growing big restaurant chain in the U.S. and now the third-largest domestic concept.
It took on new life when Popeyes released its chicken sandwich in August of 2019—generating remarkably strong sales early on and becoming arguably the most successful new product introduction in modern industry history.
Yet there is some evidence that demand for Popeyes’ sandwich is fading or at least settling. Carrols Restaurant Group, which operates 65 Popeyes locations, said its same-store sales for those restaurants declined 12.9% in the fourth quarter.
The flurry of chicken-sandwich introductions, in other words, could blunt the impact of individual offerings as they get released. But in general, all of the restaurant companies that have tested new chicken sandwiches have boasted that they performed well in tests.