Popeyes has made a significant leap in the chicken chain industry, surpassing KFC to become the second-largest chicken chain in the United States. This milestone comes a decade after Chick-fil-A first dethroned KFC from the top spot. Over the years, the competition among chicken chains has intensified, with Chick-fil-A emerging as a nationwide powerhouse and only trailing behind McDonald’s and Starbucks in annual sales.
One of the major drivers behind Popeyes’ rise to the top has been the launch of its chicken sandwich in 2019. This menu item became a huge hit and sparked what is now known as the “chicken sandwich wars.” Even burger chains like McDonald’s and Wendy’s joined in on the trend, creating their own versions of the iconic sandwich. This frenzy led to a shortage of poultry, creating a wave of excitement and demand in the market.
While Popeyes managed to gain ground on its competitors, including KFC, both chains experienced a decline in market share in the past year. However, Popeyes retained enough of its share to surpass KFC. According to Barclays research, KFC’s US market share fell from 16.1% to 11.3%, while Popeyes saw a decrease from 15% to 11.9%. Meanwhile, Chick-fil-A saw its market share expand from 38.3% to a staggering 45.5%.
Chick-fil-A’s success can be attributed to various factors. Despite being closed on Sundays, the Atlanta-based chain has achieved unprecedented dominance. Industry experts credit Chick-fil-A’s exceptional customer service, focused menu, and efficient drive-thru lanes for its triumph. Its ability to consistently deliver a positive customer experience has undoubtedly played a crucial role in its sustained popularity.
KFC, on the other hand, has struggled to keep up with the competition. One notable setback for the chain was its delayed response to Popeyes’ chicken sandwich. By the time KFC introduced its own version, Popeyes had already garnered significant attention and customer loyalty. Additionally, KFC also faced a loss in leadership, as their longtime US leader, Kevin Hochman, departed for Brinker International.
Despite facing challenges, Popeyes managed to leverage the popularity of its chicken sandwich to introduce customers to other menu items and spur new restaurant openings. In fact, their Sweet ‘N Spicy Wings recently became the chain’s most successful launch since the chicken sandwich. With this momentum, Restaurant Brands International Chair Patrick Doyle confidently stated, “Game on, Chick-fil-A.” Popeyes President Sami Siddiqui expressed optimism, emphasizing that the chain is still in its early stages of growth and aims to become the most beloved and visited chicken chain in the US.
Popeyes’ ascendance to the second position in the US chicken chain industry marks a significant shift in the market. It reflects the intense competition among chicken chains, spurred by the chicken sandwich wars. While KFC faced challenges, Chick-fil-A maintained its dominance through excellent customer service and a focused menu. Popeyes capitalized on the chicken sandwich craze and used it as a catalyst for growth. As the battle for market share continues, it will be interesting to see how these chicken chains adapt and innovate to win the hearts and stomachs of consumers.