“Despite all that has changed in the past 365 days, the battle for poultry supremacy shows no signs of abating,” writes Emily Heil for The Washington Post in an article about the ongoing fast food chicken sandwich wars. “And there’s no indication that America’s collective obsession with a crunchy bit of bird on a bun is going anywhere.”
It all started, of course, with the national release of the Popeyes chicken sandwich last August. The runaway success of that menu item made life hell for individual franchisees and local law enforcement but spelled “$$$$$$” for the company as a whole. Other fast food chains were paying attention, and many have released their own version of chicken on a bun: Wendy’s has added a Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich to its “4 for $4" menu, KFC is testing a new souped-up version of its prior offering, and McDonald’s continues to develop a crave-able sandwich capable of toppling Popeyes’ poultry supremacy. The Post notes that even as the restaurant industry saw a 24% drop in sales during the pandemic, chicken sandwich sales are up 1.2% within the last 12 months. They’re also the most popular orders on Grubhub and DoorDash.
All this to say, we’re in a chicken sandwich bubble, and the one thing we know about bubbles is that they’ll eventually burst. This trendy foodstuff will never go away, but it’s only a matter of time before America’s fixation with “a crunchy bit of bird on a bun” begins to subside. And that’s where Wendy’s Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich comes in, posits Heil in the Post. The Wendy’s sandwich, she writes, is unremarkable, its “puck” of chicken a distant third or fourth behind Popeyes’ large juicy fillets. But maybe its inoffensive nature makes it the perfect side order. Maybe the Wendy’s chicken sandwich doesn’t want to become your go-to entree, but rather a secondary side alongside your fries. Heil writes,
This thin patty isn’t about to dethrone its heartier rivals — but that seems to be the goal. This gal isn’t trying to be the star of the show, the Beyoncé who will leave Destiny’s Child in its rearview mirror. It seems to be designed for a supporting role: When you’re buying it as just one element of the “4 for 4″ deal,” it can easily blend in alongside the suite of fries and nuggets and sodas.
It’s a solid theory, and a tactic that we wouldn’t put past a fast food giant. Perhaps the gambit to turn chicken sandwiches into sides will even succeed. But amidst all this talk of fried poultry, we can’t forget what matters most: the KFC skinwich.