KFC looks to take on Popeyes in the chicken sandwich wars

It’s official. Chicken chain KFC is jumping into the chicken sandwich wars with a new chicken sandwich that is being testing in select stores in the Orlando, Florida, area.

While KFC (YUM) already has a chicken sandwich on its menu, the fast food chain admitted that it wasn’t really a top contender amid the steep competition.

“It’s about time. Competition as set a high bar,” KFC U.S. President Kevin Hochman said in an interview with Yahoo Finance Tuesday. “We had to ask tough questions about what we’ve done well and haven’t done so well. The sandwich we put out wasn’t as competitive as it needed to be. We spent the last nine months retooling. We think we have a great sandwich.”

Hochman explained that KFC wasn’t going to put a product to test until it had the research and was confident that it could outperform the competition.

It was a tough innovation process, according to Hochman. “It seems really simple making a chicken sandwich…[but] it’s a tough process.” KFC worked with its 10 chicken processors on making its chicken filet 20% larger than the current version. “We have to figure out how to cut the filet just exactly so it’s consistent for the guest and comes out crunchy and delicious every time,” he said.

The company went through 10 different pickles, and the one included in the new sandwich is 10 times more expensive than KFC’s other pickles, Hochman explained.

KFC’s new sandwich looks rather similar to its rival Popeyes’ chicken sandwich, which swept the country in 2019 and sparked the so-called chicken sandwich wars among fast food chains.

Read more: Popeyes chicken sandwich: Inside a great American fast food success story

Customers in the Orlando area will be able to purchase the new KFC chicken sandwich for $3.99 each. Rival Popeyes’ chicken sandwich retails for the same price.

COVID-19 might be raging on, but it’s not stopping KFC from innovating. “Our comfort foods and buckets of chicken are flying off the shelves right now. We’ve had good success even though people are sheltering in place, we’ve seen a pick up in some of our buckets business,” Hochman said. “People aren’t going to stay sheltered forever, and people will need to eat on the go. We can wait until they’re back or be on the front end making sure we have amazing food ready to go when they’re ready to come back to our restaurants.”

Orlando was chosen as the test market for the new chicken sandwich because KFC has a good amount of company-owned stores in the area, according to Hochman.

“In a pandemic where everything is virtual, it’s much harder to train and bring franchisee partners along. When you’re able to do it with your own employees, like we can in the stores in Orlando, is one of the main reasons why we chose that market. And that will be the true test of whether we’re going to go national with this.” 

Heidi Chung is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @heidi_chung.

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