One of Popeyes' biggest product launches this year drew its inspiration from the West Coast -- a departure for the chain that likes to tout its Louisiana roots.
The limited-time Chicken Waffle Tenders -- boneless chicken strips with a waffle batter, served with a honey maple dipping sauce -- were inspired by the dietary habits of jazz musicians in Los Angeles during 1940s and 50s.
Dick Lynch, chief global brand officer at Popeyes, explained that players finished so late that if they wanted a meal, restaurants and diners would still have fried chicken available while prepping waffle batter. The combination of chicken and waffles has tough-to-trace origins, but this part of its history resonated with Popeyes. And the pairing is apparently experiencing a revival.
"Chicken and waffles is an incredibly trendy, popular and kind of unexpected [product] right now," Mr. Lynch said.
A campaign supporting the product launches July 29 and will include TV work by Popeyes' agency GSD&M, as well as a digital effort by Campbell Mithun that includes video of the chain's food truck offering the new product, and customer reactions. Mr. Lynch said food trucks, which are trendy in their own right, are common places to find chicken and waffles.
The new item is off-brand for Popeyes because its origins are not traced back to New Orleans or Louisiana. But Mr. Lynch said it isn't straying that far from its tradition. "Jazz is so embedded in the culture of New Orleans that we didn't have to look too hard to find" a connection. "We're looking to real culinary trends, no matter where they came from. The odder the better, frankly."
The product is the first in what will be a series of limited-time "flavor proliferations" of the chicken tenders the chain introduced last year. Mr. Lynch declined to name future offshoots, but said the success of the chicken tender waffles will help determine how many there will be.
The product gives Popeyes something that no other large chain is offering. "It just adds variety to Popeyes menu, and it's unique, which gives them a story to tell above and beyond what everyone else does," said restaurant marketing consultant Joel Cohen. "Whenever you have an opportunity to be the only one, it makes your message rise above the clutter."
Business has been good for Popeyes in recent years. The chain's U.S. sales increased 14.4% in 2012 to just over $2 billion, according to Technomic. It's the third-largest chicken chain in the U.S. with 10.9% market share, trailing only KFC and Chick-Fil-A.
Popeyes spent about $54.9 million on U.S. measured media in 2012, according to Kantar Media.