Remember the good old days when fast food menus everywhere were getting pelted with chicken sandwiches? We struggled to keep up with all the new offerings, conducting many taste tests, and at the end of 2021, we concluded we’d like to see fewer of them hit the market in 2022. However, it’s now 2023, and if you’ve noticed, there’s been no end in sight to the chicken sandwich parade. But we’ve noticed a new microtrend in the chicken sandwich landscape lately: as fast food chains are changing their angle of attack, they’ve strayed away from simplicity and started adding more toppings.
Take, for example, Wendy’s Italian Mozzarella Chicken sandwich, which is still currently on the menu nationwide. While the thing is decked out with a fried mozzarella patty, a slice of mozzarella, and marinara, it’s all on top of the same fried chicken breasts that form the core of its basic Original Chicken Sandwich. It’s almost like the poultry’s hiding out among all those accessories.
Burger King debuted its own Italian Royal Crispy Chicken Sandwich within weeks of Wendy’s release; this offering had a similar build to Wendy’s, sans the unique mozzarella patty. Without the extra pizzaz of the fried cheese layer, it fell pretty flat.
Notably, Popeyes—the sandwich purveyor that kicked off the whole sandwich battle in the first place—seems to be pushing the boundaries of the chicken sandwich in a different way. Rather than slather a bunch of stuff atop its existing chicken fillets, the chain has debuted the Blackened Chicken Sandwich, which is heavily seasoned and not breaded at all. Flavor is being concentrated in the poultry, rather than everything that surrounds it.
Burger King is first up with a new round of chicken sandwiches to kick off the new year. These are all in the Original Chicken Sandwich format, which is BK’s name for the oblong chicken sandwiches shaped more like a sub. Notably, the newest one is Mexican inspired:
- Mexican Original Chicken Sandwich: Topped with ghost pepper cheese and crispy-fried jalapeños on a sesame seed bun
- Italian Original Chicken Sandwich: Released previously, this one is topped with marinara sauce and melted Mozzarella cheese
- American Original Chicken Sandwich: Topped with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise
As you can see, it’s the same sandwich with some spiffy new outfits, though the “Mexican” nature of the newest release seems tenuous at best; ghost pepper cheese doesn’t exactly scream “Mexican cuisine” to me. Whether or not a new set of toppings will revive a stalwart sandwich is yet to be seen, but we don’t think the chicken sandwich competition is over—not by a long shot.
On its face, the hyping of chicken sandwiches on every fast food menu makes sense: If you’re not in the mood for a burger, chances are you can be convinced to reach for something with chicken in it, whether a box of nuggets or a sandwich or some Chicken Fries. But behind the scenes, there’s a bigger reason why chicken is being pushed so aggressively.
Poultry prices are currently on a downward trend, meaning fast food giants are primed to make a ton of money via wider profit margin, even if sales are average. Obviously, some chains will aim for the stars with their new offerings, but even if not all the debuts are winners, a shiny new release is nevertheless guaranteed to make some good money. Thanks to TikTok and YouTube, our curiosity about new menu items has never been more primed to result in a trip to the drive-thru.
While we’re surprised—and a little tired—by the continued momentum behind the industry’s push toward chicken sandwiches, the fact is that chicken sandwiches are good for business. We expect to see more of them this year, just a little more gussied up. But don’t hope for too many true innovations under the hood.