KFC fires another salvo in the ‘chicken sandwich wars’

The QSR leans into the competitive spirit as sandwiches become a platform for innovations that are keeping sales strong.

When compared with the “cola wars,” the “chicken sandwich wars” might be more of a prolonged skirmish in the history of marketing combat.

That said, KFC is throwing down the gauntlet as it introduces a new bacon-topped chicken sandwich, which comes with a hybrid “baconnaise” of its own making.

The “chicken sandwich wars,” as U.S. media have dubbed them, began in 2019 when Popeye’s released its first chicken sandwich, which sold out at locations across the country and had Canadian customer clamouring for it to come here. Since then, QSRs big and small have made their own entries, with Burger King introducing its own Ch’King this week, and even Pringles partnering with Wendy’s for a spicy chicken sandwich.

“But we are the OG, we are the masters,” insists Ira Dubinsky, marketing director for KFC Canada. “We were the fried chicken pioneers, we are the fried chicken experts…we take a pulse on the industry and chicken trends, and it’s a fight we are happy to be a part of.”

Whether or not the chicken sandwich wars are something consumers are as emotionally invested in as their favourite restaurants seem to be, KFC is leaning into the competitive spirit. In a campaign for the Bacon Lovers sandwich by creative AOR John St., KFC is bold about having the world’s “most famous chicken,” and that putting it on a sandwich and adding bacon is one of the only ways to perfect it. It then directly calls out competitors, saying “your move, other sandwiches.”

KFC launched its “Chicken Chicken” buttermilk-marinated sandwich last year, which became a permanent menu item and a platform for further innovation, such as the addition of bacon, Dubinsky says.

“We’ll look to bring new and exciting twists to that sandwich in the future,” he says, adding that it’s too early to say if this will be something offered beyond a limited time.

Last month, KFC parent Yum Brands reported Q1 revenue of approximately $1.5 billion. Same store sales growth at KFC was 8%, bolstered by new and returning menu items, including KFC’s sandwich innovations. In an investor call, Yum Brands’ CEO David Gibbs reports that it is seeing “continued strength” in the Canadian market.

In addition to a media relations strategy, TV and audio spots and OOH placements, KFC Canada will provide consumers with the opportunity a receive 30-minutes of commercial free content on Spotify accounts. While he would not comment on ad spend, Dubinsky says the campaign is a “really important” product launch, one of the biggest it has planned for this year.

“We wanted to go broad, and have real impact with the campaign,” Dubinsky says. Wavemaker is handling the media buy.

He says that while COVID has definitely had an impact on the business, the reality is, people are still out and about and there’s still a role to be played with contextual advertising, particularly in areas nearby a KFC restaurant. Drive-thru, Dubinsky maintains, remains a popular and convenient way to engage with consumers during lockdowns.

In other KFC news, the brand has begun to bring back its “Finger Lickin’ Good” slogan in the U.K. after it was put on ice due to pandemic safety measures. Dubinsky is hopeful that the phrase will be able to come back to Canada as well, and it’s something the brand will be “shouting about” once it does.