The return to the chicken wars is “long overdue,” said Gary Stibel, founder and CEO of the New England Consulting Group. While Popeyes sparked the original battle, he suggested it could have done more with it. Popeyes “just backed off—they became just another player rather than the leader,” he said. “Many competitors have benefited from Popeyes focusing on chicken sandwiches,” said Stibel. “Competitors better react, and they will.”
Popeyes is not giving up much by sharing the recipe, said Michael Cohen, global chief data and analytics officer with holding company Plus Company. The competition is more about how brands can raise their profile, and “the only way a competitor could actually steal the recipe is with another social media stunt,” he said.
But will the brand’s competitors bite? Popeyes has ruled out directly engaging with other RBI-owned brands, a spokesperson said. Those include Burger King, Tim Hortons and Firehouse Subs, which all have chicken sandwiches on their menus.
The chicken sandwich category is in need of some new attention—sales fell by 3.9% to $9.2 billion in the 12 months that ended in September, according to data from research firm NPD Group, which analyzed quick service restaurants.
Brands including Arby's, Burger King, McDonald's and Panera Bread are still spending millions of dollars advertising chicken sandwiches, according to estimated national TV ad data from iSpot. Arby's upped its spend from $1 million last year to $11.3 million this year to date, while Panera Bread has increased spending from $4.3 million to $25.5 million in the same period. Panera’s newly launched chicken sandwiches have become its most popular sandwich item, according to CEO Niren Chaudhary, cited in the Wall Street Journal in August.
By comparison, in the same period, McDonald’s and Burger King have decreased their chicken sandwich TV ad spending from $61.7 million to $5 million and from $34.2 million to $21.9 million, respectively, according to iSpot.