In the ongoing chicken sandwich wars, Colonel Sanders is leading his brigade into battle. Specifically, Yum! Brands executives announced on Tuesday (May 25) that KFC is looking to triple its international store count from 25,000 to 75,000, Nation’s Restaurant News reported. In fact, the restaurant plans to open a new location every five hours throughout 2021.
The news comes as quick-service restaurants (QSRs) and fast-casual chains ramp up their efforts to be consumers’ go-to chicken sandwich pick. Last year’s “State of the Plate” report from restaurant aggregator Grubhub noted a shocking 299 percent increase in demand for spicy chicken sandwiches. In fact, the impact of quarantine boosted this figure to a 353 percent increase, the report stated.
Noting this surge, major restaurant chains are constantly making moves to win fans’ chicken sandwich spend. In the past week alone, Burger King has announced the June 3 nationwide launch of its Ch’King sandwich, Popeyes has dropped a fried-free take on the sandwich with a new Blackened Chicken Sandwich, and Wendy’s has unveiled its limited-edition Spicy Chicken Pringles.
For its part, KFC announced a new chicken sandwich in early January, calling it its “best chicken sandwich ever.” True to its promise, the sandwich has been driving sales for the chicken chain.
“Our sandwich is performing at more than twice the volumes of our prior U.S. sandwich launches, and all initial indications are that it’s highly incremental,” Yum! Brands Chief Executive Officer David Gibbs said on a call with investors in April. “Customers are loving the product and coming back more frequently for it. In fact, as we’ve entered Q2, demand for the new sandwich has been so strong that, coupled with general tightening in domestic chicken supply, our main challenge has been keeping up with that demand.”
In the first three months of 2021, KFC saw worldwide system sales growth of 11 percent, though sales remained below pre-pandemic levels, and the chain opened 409 new restaurants in 50 different countries. The chain currently has locations in more than 135 countries and territories.
Gibbs noted, “KFC and Pizza Hut have done a tremendous job navigating the tricky environment over the last year, [and] very importantly, they’ve done a great job setting themselves up for future success.” He added that KFC has been especially successful in “developed markets like the U.S., Canada, Australia [and] the U.K.,” seeing stronger performance in countries that are “ahead of the curve a little bit on vaccination, keeping the virus under control.”
During the Investor Day presentation, the company also revealed that its plant-based Beyond Fried Chicken is being pilot-tested in eight global markets, noting “increase[d] interest in plant-based proteins in North America, Europe and Asia.” Additionally, company representatives shared that KFC is investing in new driver tracking software, Bluetooth sensors that will monitor kitchen temperatures, an employee training program featuring augmented reality-enabled glasses and other automated technologies. KFC representatives also said that in 2020, the chain’s digital sales grew $5 billion, accounting for 43 percent of sales transactions to their pre-pandemic 20 percent.
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