The ‘chicken wars’ have been in the news a lot of late, as fast food players grow increasingly competitive in trying to woo diners who love the tasty bird (especially in sandwich form).
For example, Chick-fil-A e-mailed customers about this upcoming Sunday’s National Sandwich Day, forgetting that they weren’t open on Sunday. Popeye’s let them know about it on social with a snarky tweet saying “seriously…y’all good?” It was a particularly important gaffe because Sunday’s National Sandwich Day is also the day Popeye’s is bringing back their wildly popular chicken sandwich.
Business Insider just reported they obtained leaked documents indicating that McDonald’s will be upping the intensity of the battle on the breakfast chicken front.
McDonald’s will be rolling out chicken for breakfast across its stores in January, 2020, matching a similar announcement Wendy’s has made. When McDonald’s was asked to comment on the leaked internal communications, they responded to Business Insider coyly, saying:
“America has loved McDonald’s breakfast since the iconic Egg McMuffin debuted in McDonald’s restaurants in 1975. We will continue to bring new and delicious craveable options, freshly prepared in our kitchens to our customers, so stay tuned.”
The exact chicken-for-breakfast menu item(s) McDonald’s will be selling isn’t clear yet, although McDonald’s has been testing McChicken McMuffins, Chicken McGriddles and McChicken Biscuits. The offering will have to be a good one if it is to compete with the long entrenched Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich or with the honey butter chicken sandwich Wendy’s plans to roll out, which is already getting early raves.
While half of McDonald stores currently have chicken for breakfast on the menu in some form, this national rollout will clearly take the ‘chicken wars’ to the next level.
Why this is such an important move for McDonald’s.
To say that Popeye’s chicken sandwich was a success would be an understatement, and to say it didn’t phase McDonald’s would be inaccurate. McDonald’s US same store sales growth slowed to 4.8 percent, down from 5.7 percent, after Popeye’s chicken sandwich hit the market.
Analysts have hailed breakfast and chicken as the new battleground, the results of which are sure to have a substantive impact on stock prices in the coming years.
McDonald’s franchisees have noticed and pressed the company to not only catch up on chicken offerings, but to lead the way. The Wall Street Journal reported that The National Owners Association (a group representing McDonald’s franchisees) wrote a letter to its members saying “JFK called for a man on the moon. Our call should be a category leading chicken sandwich.”
I wouldn’t have thought a new chicken sandwich would get put onto the same scale as a moon landing, but there you go.
The call to arms by franchisees won’t be easy to meet, however. McDonald’s invited some restaurant operators to try a new breaded chicken sandwich at its Chicago headquarters in May, to less than rousing approval.
So much is riding on McDonald’s next move. Analysts are watching, perhaps more than any other recent move McDonald’s has made. The stock price has already shown signs of being sensitive to ‘chicken war’ skirmishes. Franchisees are eagerly awaiting, albeit with skepticism. I’ve had experience keynoting for franchisees in the fast food industry and can tell you from experience, it’s a highly demanding bunch. Wouldn’t you be if you’d sunk your life savings into a restaurant whose menu’s success depends on some distant test kitchen to cook up winners?
This is one time when playing chicken is a good thing. Let’s see if McDonald’s backs off, or gets it right.