How McDonald's plans to defeat Chick-fil-A in the chicken sandwich wars

The chicken sandwich wars have escalated to world-war status. Pretty much everybody on the fast-food map is in the fight or will join it soon. Even McDonald's, fast food's biggest superpower, plans to engage in battle (via Business Insider). McDonald's says it will roll out a "thicker and juicier" chicken sandwich in February. Burger King, Wendy's, Jack in the Box, Zaxby's, Church's Chicken, and Whataburger have all recently introduced a new or improved chicken sandwich, or they plan to soon.

So what's going on? Why are so many chains entering this war in the first place? A good analogy might be Hollywood. If one movie studio scores a big hit, all the other studios scramble to copy that success (via Taste of Cinema). Chick-fil-A had been humming along for decades with its "original" chicken sandwich: a thick hunk of breaded, pressure-fried chicken breast served on a buttered bun with a pickle. Chick-fil-A also sells spicy and deluxe versions of its sandwich. However, it was Popeyes that would ultimately start this battle between fast-food chains.  

How Popeyes started the chicken sandwich wars

Popeyes saw Chick-fil-A's rapid growth in business and decided to release its own chicken sandwich in August 2019: a thick, breaded hunk of breast meat on a bun with a pickle and either spicy or regular mayonnaise. Popeyes' new sandwich looked so much like Chick-fil-A's that the maker of the "original" sandwich took to Twitter to remind its fans who came up with the sandwich first. Popeyes gave a snarky response that went viral, and the chicken sandwich wars were on (via Vox).

Then Wendy's came out with a new "juicy and crispy" chicken sandwich in October 2020 that resembles Chick-fil-A's deluxe sandwich (via Business Insider). The voice-over in the TV ad promoting the new sandwich says, "Wendy's didn't start the chicken wars. They just ended them." Not so fast, Wendy's. 

Now, McDonald's is getting into the fray on Feb. 24 (via Business Insider). While McDonald's clearly wants some of Chick-fil-A's business, it's obviously not trying to take Chick-fil-A's claim to originality. McDonald's will introduce three "crispy chicken" sandwiches: a thick chicken-breast patty with sliced pickle on a buttered bun, a spicy version with a new pepper sauce, and a deluxe with lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese. McDonald's is even putting the crispy chicken sandwich and the spicy crispy in a foil wrapper, just like Chick-fil-A and Popeyes.

Will McDonald's win the chicken sandwich wars?

If anyone should worry about McDonald's entry into the chicken wars, it might be Popeyes. During the long period when Popeyes was the only challenger to Chick-fil-A's sandwich supremacy, it enjoyed double-digit sales growth, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, per Business Insider. Restaurant consultant Steve Crichlow told the publication that Wendy's likely would have a big impact on Popeyes' business because loyal Wendy's customers, who had been going to Popeyes for that chicken sandwich, can now get something very similar at their favorite chain. People who love McDonald's will almost certainly give the chain's new chicken sandwich a try once it hits the Golden Arches.

Will McDonald's declare victory in the chicken sandwich wars? Slapping the McDonald's logo onto the sandwich won't be enough. After all, Popeyes didn't accomplish its huge gains in the chicken sandwich wars simply by being good at Twitter. Food reviewers at Reader's Digest, The Takeout and Business Insider all said Popeyes' sandwich was better than Chick-fil-A's. So, we're all waiting to sink our teeth into McDonald's version before we declare a final winner.