McDonald's joins the chicken sandwich wars with the Crispy Chicken Sandwich, but it will be no match for Chick-fil-A's product or brand.
McDonald’s has entered the fray of the chicken sandwich wars. After Popeyes Chicken flexed sales of “The Sandwich” on Twitter this August, Chick-fil-A responded with a tweet touting love “for the original.”
Then Popeyes fired the shot heard ’round the world (of chicken sandwiches):
Chick-fil-A fans cried foul. A salty war of words ensued between fans of the rival chicken fast food chains. Talk isn’t cheap. Apex Marketing Group estimated Popeyes received $23.25 million in free advertising from the spat.
Let’s put the chicken sandwich wars in perspective. Last year Netflix’s revenues topped $15 billion. Chick-fil-A’s revenues were over $10 billion. That puts this market rivalry on par with the streaming wars.
Chick-fil-A’s growth over the last decade is a major threat to McDonald’s. The chicken sandwich chain is now a Top 5 U.S. restaurant concept behind Starbucks, Subway, Taco Bell, and of course, McDonald’s.
A group of McDonald’s franchisees wrote in a July letter:
A favorite, that our customers want, is a chicken sandwich. Unfortunately, they have to go to Chick-fil-A for it.
The letter continues:
Chick-fil-A’s results demonstrate the power of chicken. Yes, we have great Chicken McNuggets and our McChicken is a very good product. But we do not compete in the premium chicken sandwich category.
But it’s more than chicken power driving Chick-fil-A’s excellent results. It’s the power of a crisp brand, better customer service, and strong customer loyalty.
Here are five reasons McDonald’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich will be no match for Chick-fil-A as the billion dollar chicken sandwich wars unfold:
Chick-fil-A’s real secret ingredient is its dedication to the customer. Consumers rank it the top fast food brand for creating emotional engagement and loyalty in Feb 2019. It lead the industry in customer satisfaction in another study last year. If you’ve ever been to Chick-fil-A these results are not surprising.
Their employees are exceedingly competent and friendly. They say, “It’s my pleasure,” to customers who say, “Thank you.” They call customers by name, unlike McDonald’s where employees call your ticket number.
McDonald’s advertises, “I’m loving it,” but their main chicken competitor’s employees actually love-bomb their customers every day.
Maybe that’s also because their employees actually love working there more. Chick-fil-A seems to have a more tender heart for its workers.
The chicken hawker’s workers also rate it higher than the burger joint’s employees on perks and benefits, gender equality, and workplace diversity.
A small matter like better cups can make a big difference. Soft drink sales are a massive money maker for the fast food business. McDonald’s $1 soda promotion in 2017 was a big draw for consumers. But the cups matter too.
McDonald’s switch away from foam cups to recyclable paper and plastic is hurting sales in the South where the chicken wars rage hottest. Earlier this year Southeast franchises reported hundreds of thousands of dollars lost to competitors’ foam cups.
They say customers prefer the better insulated foam cups. In hotter climates, the foam cups simply sweat less. Operators have even reported customers bringing in their own foam cups, or competitors’ cups.
It’s not just the crispy, buttery, perfectly-spiced chicken goodness that Chick-fil-A’s customers love. They love the brand.
Not opening on Sundays is powerful brand differentiation. It was something odd that made the Atlanta-based chain famous in the first place.
It’s an example of what Dot Com era marketing guru Seth Godin calls (ironically enough), “A Purple Cow.” That’s anything remarkable about a brand that creates word of mouth advertising.
It shows the fast food chain cares about its employees more than chasing profits one more day out of each week. And it also builds desire for the product by limiting its availability.
That’s one of the oldest sales tactics: the take away. “Sorry, you actually can’t have this product you want. It’s not available. See you Monday.”
Let’s keep it real though.
The chicken sandwich wars are about the chicken too. The test runs in Houston and Knoxville are where the rubber really meets the road.
McDonald’s has taken fire for a supply chain that breeds chickens so unnaturally large they can’t walk and develop heart disease. The product suffers as much as the bird. Chick-fil-A uses smaller, more tender chickens.
McDonald’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich doesn’t stand a chance.
This article was edited by Sam Bourgi.
Last modified: December 25, 2019 1:49 PM UTC