Photo: ingesche (iStock), David L. Ryan (The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

If the fast-food market was a game of Risk, Chick-fil-A would be swiftly marching across the map, planting its soldiers in territories from Alaska to Yakutsk. The chain recently became the third-largest restaurant company in America, behind only McDonald’s and Starbucks. The news hasn’t gone unnoticed by McDonald’s independent franchisees, who this week demand McD’s corporate introduce a chicken sandwich that can stand up to the Chick-fil-A onslaught.

CNBC obtained a copy of an email sent by the National Owners Association franchisee group to other owners, in which the franchisees practically beg the chain to introduce a “premium chicken sandwich” that could rival its competitor’s. While McDonald’s does currently offer its Classic Chicken Sandwich, it’s apparently not premium enough in the eyes of franchisees. The email states the chicken-sandwich demands in no uncertain terms:

A Chicken Sandwich at McDonald’s should be our top priority. JFK called for a man on the moon, our call should be a category leading chicken sandwich. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We didn’t invent the drive thru, we perfected it. Chick Fil A invented the Chicken Sandwich, but we can do one better.

You may recall McDonald’s Southern Style Chicken Sandwich (2005-2015), which was closer to the sandwich served at Chick-fil-A. The National Owners Association remembers it, too, and thinks that with a few updates, it could be the answer they’re searching for: “We need to serve it in a foil bag and we need to butter the bun, but the patty recipe was excellent.” The NOA calls on McDonald’s to introduce a revamped chicken sandwich in the South as a test market, then fast-track it to national locations. The group signs its letter “Your ‘reaching for the moon’ NOA Board.”

While McDonald’s remains the largest restaurant company in the country, its size also makes introducing new items a massive undertaking. For example, the chain hasn’t yet added a meatless burger to its menu, despite petitions calling on it to do so. As Chick-fil-A fans fuel that company’s surge, though, the Golden Arches can ignore the demands of customers—or franchisees—at its own potential peril.

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