Americans love chicken. Whether it’s fried, barbecued, or grilled, we just can’t seem to get enough. And the growing fast food scene doesn’t help much either. (Nowadays, all you have to do to get some chicken is cross the road!) These six chicken chains are fighting to stay on top as America’s top cluck.
In 2014, Chick-Fil-A made a five-year pledge to work with suppliers to only use antibiotic-free chicken in its products. This June, the Atlanta-based chicken giant also announced that they were testing new menu items at locations in Florida, including the baked potato, which is only currently sold at one other fast food chain: Wendy’s.
Chick-Fil-A founder Truett Cathy passed away in late 2014, but sales at the chicken chain haven’t wavered. Despite being closed on Sundays, Chick-Fil-A’s average sales are nearly triple that of KFC, which has almost 3,000 more US stores than their smaller competitor.
After losing its title to Chick-Fil-A in 2012 as top chicken seller, KFC has been working on a new plan to gain back their throne. So this year they revived the long dead Colonel Sanders through a series of odd commercials, advertising campaigns, social media messages, and in-store signage. Colonel Sanders was played by SNL alum Darrell Hammond until this August when KFC brought in the “Real Colonel,” played by comedian Norm Macdonald who, like Hammond, includes Sanders’ memorable Southern accent in every commercial. To help smooth over the sudden actor change, KFC’s newest ad depicts the “Real Colonel” watching one of Hammond’s original TV spots and declaring, ““Hey, that’s not the real Colonel Sanders! I’m the real Colonel Sanders!”
With strong backing from their owner, Yum! Brands, KFC hopes that, over the next few years, they’ll be able to redesign packaging, decor, & uniforms in the iconic carnival-style red-and-white stripes. KFC hopes that this throwback design will draw in more customers, who will also enjoy extra helpings of current menu items. Instead of following the lead of their other declining peers and introducing healthier menu options, KFC is promoting their down-home Southern food, like biscuits, gravy, and mashed potatoes, more than ever.
KFC also hopes to draw in customers by providing them with information on where the chicken cooked in the kitchen comes from, instead of information on how the chickens at that location are raised. The chain calls it “traceability” and is trying to use the tactic to divert people’s attention away from problem areas in KFC’s past, such as last years’ tainted meat supply scandal.
Last month, PDQ, a leader in the better-for-you chicken segment, upped their game when they introduced two new menu items: honey marinated chicken nuggets and the Cali Club Sandwich. Previously, the Florida chain’s main focus was on chicken tenders, but with the introduction of nuggets, PDQ is directly competing with local legend Chick-Fil-A.
Of the six restaurant chains we feature here, Super Chix is, by far, the smallest. The restaurant only has two locations in Texas but, under the leadership of founder Nick Ouimet, Super Chix hopes to grow into a large, national chain, opening between five and seven new locations by the end of 2017. The Texas micro-chain also had the backing of Yum! Brands, the owner of KFC, until the Louisville giant sold Super Chix back to Ouimet this August. The menu here is quite similar to that of PDQ; you’ll find hand-breaded, cooked fresh daily chicken tenders, hand-cut french fries, & freshly sliced salads. You’ll also find several different varieties of fresh frozen custard, a Midwest staple. The “Last True Chicken Sandwich” is also on the menu, directly rivaling Chick-Fil-A, who “didn’t invent the chicken, just the chicken sandwich.”
Slim Chickens began in Fayetteville, Arkansas in 2003 and has since grown to be one of the leading chicken restaurant chains in the Midwest. The menu at Slim Chickens doesn’t differ much from the menus of PDQ and Super Chix. The fresh chicken tenders are prepared in much the same way as the other better-for-you chicken restaurants. Hoping to become the first nationally-recognized chain from Arkansas, Slim Chickens is aggressively opening new locations all across the Plains. Currently, the chain has 12 locations in its home state, 6 locations in nearby Oklahoma, 5 in Texas, 2 recently opened restaurants in Nebraska, and one location each in Kansas & Missouri. Slim Chickens also has two locations in the works: Little Rock, Arkansas and Katy, Texas. The chicken chain is also targeting Iowa for a new location.
Shake Shack, known for their burgers, crinkle fries, and frozen custard concretes, entered the chicken business this summer with the introduction of the “Chicken Shack,” a crispy, breaded chicken breast between two buns, similar to the Chick-Fil-A Chicken Sandwich. For now, the Chicken Shack is only available for a limited time at Shake Shack’s Brooklyn locations in New York.
Other Crispy Chains
- This April, chicken-and-biscuits chain Bojangles filed for an IPO of its common stock and was successfully listed just a month later. Bojangles opened its 600th restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina in July of 2014.
- Zaxby’s, a Georgia based chicken chain located primarily in the Southeast, opened their 700th store in Charlotte, North Carolina this August.
- Also this August, McDonald’s unveiled a new menu item called Buttermilk Crispy Chicken in an effort to compete with growing poultry chains and gain back customers.
(Sources: Business Insider, LogoOK, InfoWars, Washington Post, Shake Shack, PDQ, Dallas Observer, Super Chix, NRN, Slim Chickens, Fayetteville Flyer)