LOS ALTOS, CALIF. — Popeyes’ announcement late last month that it sold out of its chicken sandwich seemed to conclude the summer’s “chicken wars.” Several chicken-oriented Q.S.R.s engaged in the social media banter, comparing products and vying for the title of best chicken sandwich. The feud did more than drive traffic at Popeyes, though. It also presented a win for other players, according to data collected by Placer.ai.
It helps that chicken sales at Q.S.R.s have been on the rise lately, increasing by 42.1% between 2011 and 2016, according to data from The NPD Group. Across the board, consumers made more restaurant purchases in August this year than in 2018. Q.S.R.s benefited the most, with same-store dollars up 4.4.%. Still, much of Popeyes’ success with its chicken sandwich launch can be credited to social media buzz.
“Warmer weather, vacations and a slower pace have historically made summer a stronger season for the restaurant industry,” said David Portalatin, NPD food industry adviser and author of “Eating Patterns in America.” “You add the excitement of a chicken sandwich battle and social media feud, and you’ve got an even greater gain in transactions — albeit temporary.”
Daily traffic at Popeyes peaked on Aug. 23, with total visits up 218% compared to July’s average. The influx of visits continued even after the chain sold out of its chicken sandwiches on Aug. 27. Traffic was up 97% on the last Friday of the month and 72% on the last Saturday.
The impact at KFC wasn’t as strong, but the chain still saw a significant boost toward the end of August. Visits increased by as much as 29% above the baseline for the period. Chick-fil-A also saw a boost in visits in late August, as did Zaxby’s, which initially saw foot traffic fall as a result of Popeye’s chicken sandwich launch.
Combined, all four brands typically bring in about 8.3 million visitors during a typical summer weekend. This number grew to more than 10 million during the chicken war. The chains continued seeing about 1.5 million more visitors than average in the days following Popeyes’ announcement that its sandwich was no longer available.
While Popeyes gained the most from the twitter-driven chicken craze, the bigger impact may have been a surge in demand for fast-food chicken in general, according to Placer.ai.
“There is a tendency to look at an event and see it only in isolation,” said Zohar Bar-Yehuda, co-founder and chief data scientist at Placer.ai. “In this case, it would have been very fair to assume that the Popeyes craze mattered to Popeyes and Chick-fil-A only. But it would be equally fair to assume that Prime Day is just for Amazon — and it isn’t. The reality is that major industry trends, even when centered around a single brand, can create huge opportunities for all related players.”