For today’s quick service restaurants (QSRs), cooking up a successful and sustainable new product offering can be incredibly challenging. When Popeyes launched its new chicken sandwich back in August, it kicked off what USA Today eventually dubbed, “The Great Sandwich War of 2019.” Popeyes’ new sandwich impacted not only the Popeyes brand, but the entire fast food industry in ways that may have lasting implications.
*Note: This content is from 2019. For the latest Chicken Sandwich news, check out our 2021 update on the Battle for the Best Chicken Sandwich.
There are many factors QSRs must consider when they decide to launch a new product. They must develop a recipe that considers relevant eating and lifestyle trends, accurately predict demand to ensure consistent supply, and craft product messaging that generates buzz without distracting from the rest of the brand. A successful new item is hard to come by, but this summer, Popeyes managed to launch a blockbuster new sandwich, and the industry is still reacting.
Buzzworthy Boost for the Popeyes Brand
It was hard to miss the many headlines surrounding Popeyes’ hit new chicken sandwich these past few months. But only one week after The New Yorker declared “The Popeyes Chicken Sandwich Is Here to Save America,” Popeyes announced the sandwich had officially sold out. With the sense of urgency around simply trying the new product and the speed at which the sandwich sold out, the positive implications for Popeyes’ bottom line were clear to see.
What was less clear were the long-term implications for the chain in terms of consumer acquisition– were these chicken sandwich buyers already heavy Popeyes customers, or were they newer to the brand? According to Numerator Insights, the item brought in visitors with unique characteristics versus the chain’s typical buyers. Popeyes’ chicken sandwich attracted younger, more affluent visitors from larger households compared to the average Popeyes customer.
This influx of new customers had an immediate impact for Popeyes, but can they keep up the momentum? Well, according to Numerator Survey Insights, a whopping 92% of product buyers stated they were either “extremely” or “somewhat” likely to return to Popeyes to purchase the sandwich again in the future. Assuming Popeyes sorts out their supply issues, the chicken sandwich could be critical to building sustained customer loyalty.
Notable Impact on Industry Behavior
According to Numerator Insights, about 30% of Popeyes new chicken sandwich buyers were purchasing crispy chicken sandwiches at other QSRs the week prior to their Popeyes chicken sandwich purchase. Share of wallet data post-launch showed a shift in chicken sandwich spend across several of the industry’s leading players; Popeyes and Chick-Fil-A both experienced a boost, while McDonald’s and some smaller players experienced a decrease.
Popeyes appears to have struck gold: they launched an item to great fanfare that not only brought new visitors to the chain, but also successfully pulled visitors away from competitors in the process. But their success also highlights some of the challenges of being a big-time QSR, like supply chain issues and savvy competitors. According to our survey, 51% of non-buyers during the “shortage” period said they went to Popeyes with the intent to buy the sandwich, but it was sold-out.
While the inconvenience was unlikely to affect Popeyes’ more loyal customers, it may have left a bad taste in newly-acquired customers’ mouths – and there was no shortage of new chicken sandwich options following the Popeyes hype. McDonald’s launched its own spicy chicken sandwich within weeks of the Popeyes shortage, and KFC’s latest sandwich innovation was announced to much fanfare several days later. Needless to say, correcting its supply chain issues as quickly as possible (and maintaining supply moving forward) is Popeyes’ best shot at satisfying customers and fending off the growing competition in the chicken sandwich arms race.
Whether you’re looking to launch a new menu item or product, or gauge the success of your current offerings, Numerator has the tools to help you succeed. Drop us a line today and let us serve you some insights.