- Hollis Johnson
Forget burgers and fries – there’s a new king of fast food on the rise.
The fast-food industry is currently obsessed with fried chicken.
Of the 100 biggest restaurant chains in the US, three of the five fastest-growing are chicken concepts. The chicken sector has been the No. 1 category in the fast-food business by purchase consideration since last April, when it eclipsed the burger sector.
Now that fried chicken is firmly established as one of the most marketable types of fast food, unexpected chains are adding more and more of it to the menu.
Take, for example, Taco Bell.
On Thursday, Taco Bell launched the Naked Chicken Chalupa, which swaps a traditional tortilla shell for a shell made out of fried chicken. Taco Bell is also testing fried chicken chips in Irvine, California and the chain has hinted that a breakfast Naked Chicken Chalupa could be the focus of an upcoming test.
- Hollis Johnson
Other chains are similarly eager to add more fried chicken to the menu. McDonald’s is expanding its test of the Chicken McGriddle breakfast sandwich. Arby’s relaunched its fried chicken last August, and plans to add more chicken sandwiches to the menu in 2017 after seeing significant growth in the area.
The rise of fried chicken at restaurants better known for burgers, burritos, and roast beef sandwiches is based on a few factors.
There are simple economic reasons. In 2016, chicken prices were significantly lower than beef prices, giving chicken chains a leg up on the burger-centric competition. While prices have equalized, the success of new chicken items proved to chains that there is a demand for poultry.
Chicken has managed to rehab its reputation – a key factor in making it a desirable dish to have on menus.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, fried chicken was widely seen as unhealthy. KFC was the largest chicken chain by sales in the US at the time – but it wasn’t doing much to boost fried chicken’s reputation. The chainstruggled to promote its chicken as a high-quality product,instead debuting stunt menu items like the infamous Double Down.
- Sarah Jacobs
However, in 2016, fried chicken has transformed into something that customers see as quality food – and maybe even somewhat healthy.
Shake Shack’s popular Chick’n Shack sandwich and celebrity chef David Chang’s fried chicken concept Fuku played a role in making quick-service fried chicken trendy.
And in recent years, Chick-fil-A helped usher fried chicken into the mainstream, becoming the No. 1 chicken chain in the US by sales. In 2015, system-wide sales topped $6 billion, and the company reported that same-store sales growth (sales at stores open more than a year) was in the double-digits.
Now, fast-food chains of all kinds are trying to get in on the trend.
On Wednesday, KFC announced it was launching the new Georgia Gold Chicken, the chain’s take on a niche, regional favorite.In tests, Taco Bell executives say that customers perceived the Naked Chicken Chalupa as fresh and creative, instead of being shamed as the second coming of the Double Down.
The restaurant industry’s love affair with fried chicken isn’t new. The biggest difference in 2017 is that fast-food chains of all kinds are ready to get in on the action.