At this point, it’s easier to keep track of what restaurant chains are not upgrading their chicken-sandwich offerings.
The latest to do so: Wendy’s, which on Thursday announced that it is rolling out a new and improved Classic Chicken Sandwich that is “crispier, juicier and so packed with flavor that, upon first taste, it’ll be an instant classic.”
The sandwich “has the perfect crunch from breading and pickles paired with the juiciness and flavor of the filet,” Wendy’s Chief Marketing Officer Carl Loredo said in a statement. The filet is served on a bun, with mayo, tomato, lettuce and pickles.
It’s also one in a remarkable series of chicken-sandwich upgrades at fast-food and fast-casual chains. A market once owned by Chick-fil-A has become one of the industry’s biggest battlegrounds.
McDonald’s and KFC are both promising new chicken sandwiches—KFC has so much riding on its version that it changed its French fry recipe in preparation for the introduction. Burger King is testing one. The burger chain BurgerFi recently released a “Spicy Fi’ed Chicken Sandwich.” Numerous other smaller and midsized chains have also upgraded chicken sandwiches.
It’s easy to see why. Last year alone, Chick-fil-A grew its system sales by $1.3 billion. That’s the approximate system sales last year as the entire Bojangles’ chain, according to data from Restaurant Business sister company Technomic. Chick-fil-A has nearly doubled in size over the past five years alone.
But it was the hype over the introduction of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen’s chicken sandwich that may be pushing more chains into chicken sandwich overdrive. Popeyes U.S. system sales grew by 18% last year, almost all of it coming after its introduction of the chicken sandwich in late August.
What’s more, its same-store sales quickly returned to positive territory during the pandemic. It generated 28.5% same-store sales growth in the second quarter and 19.7% in the third, a period in which it was comparing itself against the two-week introduction from a year ago.
Other fast-food chains have been responding with their own versions.
Wendy’s, which was able to piggyback some on the Popeyes hype last year thanks to its irreverent Twitter account, is besting its burger-centric rivals by releasing its upgraded sandwich nationally now.
But its upgrade effectively improves all of its chicken sandwich options. The company said that all of its chicken sandwiches, such as the Pretzel Bacon Pub Chicken Sandwich or the Asiago Ranch Chicken Club, will feature the upgraded premium filet.
The Classic Chicken Sandwich is available for $4.99, Wendy’s said.