McDonald's enters the chicken sandwich wars, challenging Popeye's crown in crowded field

·4 min read

McDonald's (MCD) on Wednesday officially debuted its long-awaited chicken sandwich, the latest entrant into an increasingly fierce intramural competition between fast food giants using value to cultivate loyalty.

The sandwich's debut at the Golden Arches will include three different versions: Crispy, Spicy and Crispy Deluxe (which includes extra toppings like lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise), and are served on a potato roll. The prices will vary on location and region, according to a McDonald's spokesperson.

Ever since Popeyes emerged in 2019 to challenge Chick-fil-A's chicken sandwich crown — to smashing success — a growing contingent of fast food giants have jumped in with menu items of their own. The ever lengthening list includes Taco Bell (YUM), KFC, Wendy's, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Arby’s, Jimmy John’s, Shake Shack (SHAK).

"Ever since Popeyes released its famous internet-breaking Chicken Sandwich, the bar has been set high for what customers expect from a quality chicken sandwich and other restaurants have been trying to get a taste of the hype by debuting or upgrading their own," Popeyes boasted in a statement.

(Courtesy: McDonald's)
(Courtesy: McDonald's)

Just this week, Taco Bell waded into the hot arena with a new menu item — the $2.49 Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco, which it plans to test in Nashville and Charlotte ahead of a nationwide debut later this year.

Taco Bell's Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco (Courtesy: Taco Bell)
Taco Bell's Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco (Courtesy: Taco Bell)

Last week, both Wendy's (WEN) and Burger King (QSR) carved out their own niches with new chicken sandwiches. The fast food giant plans to release the item nationwide later this year, in both original and spicy flavors. 

And not to be outdone, Kentucky Fried Chicken is entering the arena with its own, set to roll out on menus nationwide by the end of February. The $3.99 quarter-pound sandwich contains all-white meat, double-breaded, 'extra crispy' chicken breast filet, served on a toasted buttery brioche bun, pickles, along with Colonel's real mayo or spicy sauce.

"We consider ourselves the fried chicken experts," a KFC spokesperson told Yahoo Finance, "We wanted to develop a sandwich that we truly believed was going to be our best sandwich yet, which proved to be true when we nearly doubled sales expectations during the test of the new KFC Chicken Sandwich in Orlando this past spring."

(Courtesy: Wendy's)
(Courtesy: Wendy's)

But the emerging contenders all have Popeye's firmly in their sights. The company's viral chicken sandwich, which retails for $3.99 and comes in either classic or spicy — gave Popeye's a massive sales boost in 2020. The Louisiana cuisine inspired fast-food chain— a mostly U.S. operation — saw same-store sales surge 26.2% in the first quarter, 24.8% in the second quarter and 17.4% for the third quarter.

“The Popeye’s story has been incredible. The chicken sandwich was a great opportunity to bring new customers and new guests to try the great-tasting chicken, whether it’s bone in or the sandwich itself,” Restaurant Brands CEO Jose Cil told Yahoo Finance Live in an interview last year.

And like Popeye's, other chains are banking heavily on spicy sandwiches to boost sales. 

Last month, Chick-fil-A released a grilled, spicy version of its Chicken Deluxe Sandwich for $5.65. The new addition, which includes grilled chicken marinated in a spicy seasoning, Colby-Jack cheese, lettuce and tomato on a multigrain bun, is the first limited-time entrée to be featured on the national menu since summer 2019.

The company even created a new light and creamy Cilantro Lime Sauce to pair with the it — but only for a limited time.

Chick-fil-A's Grilled Spicy Chicken Deluxe Sandwich (Courtesy: Chick-fil-A)
Chick-fil-A's Grilled Spicy Chicken Deluxe Sandwich (Courtesy: Chick-fil-A)

This past weekend, Arby's debuted its new "Meat Mountain," which soared to the top of Twitter trends after it was leaked. Although not a typical 'chicken sandwich,' it consists of a cardiologist's nightmare that includes chicken tenders, ham, beef, bacon and cheese — just to name a few ingredients.  

Brooke DiPalma is a producer and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @BrookeDiPalma.

Alexandra is a Producer & Entertainment Correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193.

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