With the “chicken wars” spreading around the globe, brands continue to innovate bolder and more memorable chicken sandwich taste experiences
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KerryDigest Fast Facts:
- In 2019, the ‘chicken wars’ began in North America, with multiple brands vying for consumer preference in the QSR market.
- This competition ignited a worldwide phenomenon that continues to evolve today with global foodservice providers innovating new and localised chicken sandwiches.
- Brands are distinguishing themselves by altering characteristics including coating, bun texture, topping combinations and sauce flavour.
- Our experts weigh in on chicken sandwich trends and taste preferences across four regions.
KerryDigest Full Scoop:
Chicken sandwiches are a mainstay in foodservice, and in 2019 the market really heated up. Online spending on chicken sandwiches grew by 420% between January of 2019 and December of 2020, according to Edison Trends, and the term ‘chicken wars’ started appearing throughout the North American media to describe the competition for market share via new and inventive breaded chicken sandwich launches.
While brands including Popeyes and Chick-fil-A debuted fairly traditional coated sandwiches and chicken flavours, others pushed the boundaries. For example, TGI Fridays created a Donut Chicken Sandwich featuring a crispy fried chicken with bacon, ranch dressing and pickled jalapenos on glazed donuts while Taco Bell produced a Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco served on flatbread.
Two years later, foodservice operators continue to enter the market with their version of the “best chicken sandwich.” And, interest has spread beyond North America to consumers around the world, from Europe to the Middle East and Australia. To provide an analysis of chicken global sandwich trends we asked several of our category experts to report on regional differentiators. This review shares some of what they found. (For more detailed insights, contact us.)
- Eli Kaufman, Marketing Specialist in Beloit, Wisconsin, United States
- Leslie Serrano, Senior Innovation Chef in Beloit, Wisconsin, United States
- Samara Grossi, Marketing Coordinator in Campinas, Brasil
- Itzel Andrade, Marketing Coordinator in Mexico City, Mexico
- Pia Maria Fernandez, Marketing Manager in Taguig, Philippines
- May Wong, Assistant Marketing Manager in Naas, Ireland
North America Chicken Sandwich Trends
With COVID-19 still influencing mood and food, North American consumers are craving classic comfort, and breaded chicken sandwiches satisfy the call. Younger generations are also driving category growth because they perceive chicken sandwiches as a “better-for-you” and more sustainable entrée choice. As a result, the themes of comfort, health and sustainability recur throughout North American offerings.
On chicken sandwiches in this region, pickles are one of the most common toppings, and are used mostly in the crinkle cut formation. The appearance and type of bun has slowly shifted from a traditional sesame seed bun towards brioche and sourdough. For added taste, many chicken sandwiches come with either a spicy breading or flavourful sauce. Sauce trends also veer toward spicy, and include Nashville, jalapeno and ghost pepper. U.S. and Canada foodservice brands have dominated new product launches, but more independent segments are starting to enter the market and incorporate their own unique twists.
Latin America Chicken Sandwich Trends
Latin American consumers are seeking excitement from chicken sandwiches and the concept of signature sauces powers through the region’s products. In Mexico, there has been a rise in spicy flavours from milder buffalo to extra spicy “fuego” in sandwiches. Other unique sauce trends utilise flavours including spicy honey and, for those seeking something more subdued, lemon pepper. Besides the spicy kick, many breaded chicken sandwiches include mayonaise on their sandwiches or a signature “secret” sauce designed to intrigue customers to sample their product.
Two other trends that appear in Latin America revolve around the use of onions and product naming conventions that call out the sandwich’s texture attributes. Unlike other regions, here onions often appear on quick service restaurant products in various forms including crispy onions, all which are added for an extra flavour boost on a sandwich. Sandwich names that reference texture do so in an exaggerated way. Examples of this can be seen with McDonald’s Brazil’s Chicken Supreme Crispy sandwich and KFC Mexico’s Big Krunch sandwich. In an effort to pique curiosity and win over new consumers, brands are capitalising on unique and descriptive product names that speak to the sandwich’s breading characteristics.
Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa (APMEA) Chicken Sandwich Trends
Similar to North America, in APMEA chicken sandwich buns have transitioned beyond the traditional sesame seed offerings, in this case ushering in a range of potato and milk-based buns. This allows for a more freshly baked type of bun to be used and explores new realms of fluffy texture. To help generate excitement for this switch in bun type, many foodservice operators are playing with colour to enhance bun appearance. Colours ranging from yellow to pink to black are popping up on menus and causing chicken sandwich products to stand out to consumers of all ages.
Other key trends seen throughout the region include spice level and a large selection of veggies. A wide range of uniquely created spicy sauces have appeared, allowing consumers to select their comfort level. Popular favorites include spicy/siracha mayo, spicy ranch and bulgogi sauces. Some sauces that are offer more flavour than spice are also making waves in the chicken craze, such as teriyaki and soy garlic. Brands are further diversifying their offerings by incorporating different veggies into the final product. Lettuce, cabbage blends, onions and even pineapple appear as featured highlights atop chicken sandwiches.
Europe and Russia Chicken Sandwich Trends
In Europe and Russia, the chicken sandwich trend is differentiating itself in one major way: by focusing on the inclusion of cheese as a main topping. Cheese appears to be an essential ingredient on chicken sandwiches throughout the region, with commonly used cheese types including cheddar and creamy white cheeses. Some products feature a double dosage of both cheeses while others take it one step further through the inclusion of custom cheese sauces on products.
As is the case in North America, in Europe and Russia pickles are a top condiment on foodservice chicken sandwich products. Many offerings include them as a core component of the dish while others explore pickles as an add-on, which creates a sense of variety and customization for consumers who want more choice in sandwich makeup. One unique addition to the chicken sandwich trend in this region is the incorporation of slaw as a key element. A wide variety of slaws are being used throughout the region, with most resembling traditional coleslaw with some sort of signature unique twist.
As the chicken sandwich trend continues to grow, our experts can help with consumer insights, coating innovations and inventive chicken flavours and sauce creations. To learn more about partnering on a winning chicken sandwich product, contact us.