KFC is testing an upgraded fried chicken sandwich in Orlando
KFC is testing a larger, upgraded fried chicken sandwich in Orlando, Florida, admitting that its current national sandwich doesn’t stand up to the competition and suggesting that it is ready to fight for its space in the popular category.
The continued success of Chick-fil-A and the newfound limelight over at Popeyes show America clearly loves fried chicken sandwiches. KFC, however, hasn’t been doing as well.
So the No. 2 U.S. chicken chain is out with its “perfectly fried chicken sandwich” — those are KFC’s words, we haven’t tried it — that is about 20 percent larger than its current fried chicken sandwich, the Crispy Colonel, which was introduced in April 2018.
“We realized that [the Crispy Colonel] wasn’t the one to beat in the market, and we just weren’t O.K. with that,” says Andrea Zahumensky, chief marketing officer, KFC U.S.
The new KFC sandwich has a double-breaded chicken filet served on a buttery brioche bun with crispier, thicker pickles, and mayo in either a classic or spicy variety. And it’s priced at $3.99, in line with the hit Popeyes product.
“We’ve been working on this sandwich since mid-2019,” says Zahumensky, which suggests KFC was working on the new product before Popeyes introduced its sandwich to the world. “We’ve of course watched everything that’s happened in the industry,” she says.
The Yum Brands chain went through several iterations of the sandwich components, including finding a more gourmet pickle and the right brioche bun “designed to hug this filet specifically,” she says. “To really get to the best sandwich we needed an upgrade across the whole gamut,” says Zahumensky.
The CMO has high hopes, saying the sandwich is not just good for a quick-service restaurant product. “It’s just a great chicken sandwich, period,” she proclaims.
The question remains whether consumers agree.
KFC could use a bit of a boost that a new sandwich might bring. In the first quarter, KFC’s U.S. systemwide sales were flat, while same-store sales at longstanding locations fell 3 percent. And KFC had the slowest sales growth among the major U.S. chicken-focused chains last year, according to Technomic. KFC’s U.S. systemwide sales rose 2.5 percent to nearly $4.55 billion in 2019, while Chick-fil-A’s jumped 13 percent to $11.32 billion, and Popeyes’ soared 18.3 percent to $3.81 billion, Technomic reported.
Chick-fil-A is the clear winner in the category and is now the nation’s third-largest restaurant chain overall, unseating Subway, which fell to No. 6 in Technomic’s annual ranking.
The new KFC sandwich will get its test run in 15 Orlando restaurants through June 21. KFC will gather feedback and decide with its franchisees what the next steps could be, including a more national rollout.
For KFC, this test will be different from usual since the headquarters team cannot travel from Louisville to Orlando to observe in person how sales are going and what customers think.
Instead, the chain will gather feedback virtually, including perhaps getting videos from diners’ cars, and virtual chats with restaurant managers. KFC also says it plans to deliver first tastes of the sandwich to people in Orlando who have been on the front lines during the pandemic including teachers, auto mechanics, police officers and others.
The test comes months after KFC tested Beyond Chicken nuggets, which KFC is “very encouraged” by, Zahumensky says.
During COVID-19, KFC has been advertising products such as $20 and $30 bucket meals to attract diners. Now, Zahumensky says, she thinks there is some room in the industry to bring out some new items.
“We know that people are excited to be able to have different kinds of food, to break up the boredom” of cooking the same meals at home, says Zahumensky. “It can get a little monotonous and we hear that from our customers.”