KFC’s new chicken sandwich is a huge success: It’s selling twice as fast as the brand’s other sandwiches did at launch

KFC's chicken sandwich.
KFC’s chicken sandwich.

  • KFC’s chicken sandwich is selling twice as its other sandwiches did at their launch.
  • Keeping up with demand has been the chain’s “main challenge,” parent company Yum Brands said.
  • Popeyes, Chick-fil-A, and McDonald’s are all competing with KFC in the chicken-sandwich wars.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Sales for KFC’s new chicken sandwich are booming.

The fast-food brand said US customers were buying double as many of the sandwich, simply called the “KFC Chicken Sandwich,” as they had of other sandwiches launched in the past. The new sandwich replaced the “Crispy Colonel,” and KFC has also previously launched a Cheetos sandwich and a donut fried chicken sandwich.

“Our main challenge has been keeping up with that demand,” David Gibbs, CEO of KFC’s parent company Yum Brands, said at its earnings call Wednesday.

Read more: These 6 restaurant chains skyrocketed in growth during the pandemic and now are courting new franchisees. Here’s what it takes to open and run an El Pollo Loco, Jack in the Box, Noodles and Company, and others.

The sandwich contains an extra-crispy quarter-pound of chicken breast filet, pickles, and the option of spicy sauce or mayo on a brioche bun. It launched across the US in late February.

“Customers are loving the product and coming back more frequently for it,” Gibbs said.

He added that there had been a “general tightening” in domestic chicken supply, but KFC told CNN that the brand wouldn’t run out of the sandwich any time soon.

The chicken sandwich wars show no signs of stopping

Popeyes was credited with starting the chicken sandwich wars in 2019, when its sandwich became an instant success following huge social-media buzz. It sold out just two weeks after launch, and the chain sold 250 million of the sandwiches within its first year of launch.

Fast-food and fast-casual chains have been quick to jump in on the booming demand for chicken sandwiches. As well as KFC, other brands including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Smashburger all launched new chicken sandwiches during the pandemic.

Chick-fil-A is known as the home of the original chicken sandwich, and its recipe has changed little since its creation by the chain’s founder in 1964, Insider’s Erin McDowell reported.

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Burger King’s ‘women belong in the kitchen’ tweet, meant to critique the male-dominated cooking industry, receives backlash on International Women’s Day

Burger King
AP

  • Burger King tweeted “women belong in the kitchen” to promote its new scholarship for female chefs.
  • The restaurant said it was drawing attention to the lack of female representation in culinary arts. 
  • Some on social media said the messaging was tone-deaf and vowed to not eat at the restaurant.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Burger King UK’s latest tweet saying, “women belong in the kitchen,” caused criticism on the social media site on Monday, which is International Women’s Day.  

 

The messaging wasn’t the work of a social media manager going rogue. It’s tied to the chain’s Monday launch of a new initiative to help narrow the gap of women in head chef roles, but the messaging struck people on Twitter and Facebook the wrong way.

BurgerKing_IWD_PRImage_Newsprint_UpdatedScholarshipLine[2]

Some expressed the tweet was tone-deaf on a day meant to celebrate women; others said they wouldn’t eat at the restaurant anymore, and others joked at how the fast-food chain’s marketing team thought the message would be a good idea.

One of Burger King’s competitors criticized the word choice. A Twitter account associated with KFC said Burger King should have deleted the tweet after sending it. The restaurant replied, “Why would we delete a tweet that’s drawing attention to a huge lack of female representation in our industry.”

Gender stereotypes are still alive today. In fact, people are even more likely to believe in traditional “female” roles, like cooking and cleaning, in today’s world as they were decades ago, according to a 2016 report from Women’s Health Magazine.

In her own response to the tweet, Chelsea Peretti, a comedian and actress from “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” said “Burger King belongs in a trashcan.” Another unverified tweeter said the same thing. Still, the Burger King UK account added 10,000 followers Monday following the tweet.

On Facebook, people largely reacted with the laughing emoji. Several commenters said those who didn’t find it funny were soft, and others said there should have been a better way to promote the new initiative. 

Burger King did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on the tweet.

Burger King echoed it’s “women belong in the kitchen” messaging in a bulletin and a press release, which added that “they belong in fine dining kitchens, food truck kitchens, BK Restaurant kitchens, award-winning kitchens, casual dining kitchens, and ghost kitchens.”

The fast-food chain said it’s creating the Burger King Helping Equalize Restaurants, HER, scholarship to support female team members pursuing a degree in culinary arts. “This is a start in doing our small part to help women in the culinary field achieve their ultimate goal,” the company said in a press release, adding that women occupy only 7% of head chef positions in restaurants. 

More than half of culinary graduates are women, but just 20% of working chefs are women, according to a 2019 story from Eater.com that cited US Labor Department statistics. The median pay for a chef was about $51,000 in 2019, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show.

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KFC, Burger King, and Smashburger are all bringing food lockers to their restaurants. Here’s why they’re poised to be the next big thing in fast food.

China food lockers
A customer gets her breakfast orders from an automatic locker of Freshhema Pick’n Go, an online breakfast order service, in Shanghai, July 17, 2020.

  • Food lockers could offer restaurants a new lease of life during the pandemic.
  • The lockers are temperature-controlled and often unlocked via an app or with a pin code.
  • Automats could also make a resurgence, as people look for contactless ways to collect food orders.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Food lockers have boomed in popularity during the pandemic as a contactless way for customers to collect food.

Chains including KFC, Burger King, and Smashburger have all announced plans to bring food lockers to their restaurants.

The trend has been around for way longer than the pandemic, and isn’t just being used by restaurants.

A Horn & Hardart automat 1980
A Horn & Hardart automat selling sandwiches in New York City, January 1980.

Food lockers, in their most basic sense, are devices that are used to store food, often for customers to collect. In this way, they’re a little like the Amazon Lockers located in neighborhoods, apartment blocks, and inside stores.

The lockers vary in size, and they can be different temperatures, too. Some are heated, while others are chilled, to keep food at the right temperature until customers can collect them. More high-tech models even use UV light to kill bacteria.

Fast food restaurants have rolled out food lockers during the pandemic

Though some restaurant chains already had them in the works pre-pandemic, many have pivoted to food lockers over the past year, as they focus on new methods for delivery and collection.

Customers can order food in advance online or via the restaurant’s app and then pick it up from the locker.

Food delivery drivers can also use the lockers to collect orders.

Restaurants are experimenting with different ways for customers to unlock the lockers. In some cases, the lockers have a pinpad or touch screen. Cstomers need to enter a code sent to them when they placed their order. Other lockers can be opened by scanning a QR code or even by replying to a text message.

Food lockers can also help facilitate in-store social distancing during the pandemic. They remove the need for customers to interact with restaurant staff when it’s not necessary. Many restaurants also let customers select a collection time when they place their order, which reduces the amount of time they spend waiting in the restaurant and the number of customers waiting there at the same time.

Burger King and Smashburger are rolling out new-look restaurants with food lockers this year.

Mobile Burger King
Burger King is rolling out food lockers at its new restaurants.

KFC trialed food lockers at four restaurants in Japan in October, and it also uses similar lockers at its dubbed “restaurant of the future” in Moscow. The automated store, which involves minimum human contact, uses conveyor belts and robots to put food orders in lockers at the front of the store.

Customers retrieve their food using a code, and can pay either by card or using a biometric facial recognition system.

North Carolina-based chain Rise Southern Biscuits & Righteous Chicken is rolling out heated food lockers in some of its stores, too. The lockers are stacked on top of one another with individual heating systems.

“We just want people to feel safe, regardless of how they perceive the virus,” Rise CEO, Tom Ferguson Jr., told Insider. “Not only do the food lockers provide a contactless transaction, they also add convenience. The biggest plus for us at Rise is it’s freed us to focus on the culture in our kitchen that makes running a restaurant worth it.”

Rise food lockers
Rise is opening food lockers at its stores.

Though the trend has been accelerated by the demand for contact-free collection, food lockers aren’t a new phenomenon. Some fast food outlets were considering them before the pandemic.

Back in November 2018, Dunkin’ said it was testing pickup lockers at its innovation lab. After placing an order for pickup on the Dunkin’ app, users would simply go to the lockers, scan a QR code, grab their order, and go. Dunkin’ said it envisioned locating the lockers in busy stores in cities like New York, so that customers on-the-go wouldn’t have to wait on any lines.

Dunkin' food lockers
Dunkin’ tested pickup lockers at its innovation lab in 2018.

Wingstop said in January 2019 it was looking to introduce the lockers to cut labor costs, noting that 75% of its business was collection.

Automats are like vending machines for hot food

Before restaurants started using them for customer pickup, automats were already using rows of food lockers to sell hot food. The world’s first automat was opened in Berlin in 1895, though it looked very different to modern ones.

With a notable presence in countries including Spain, the Netherlands, and Japan, automats are like self-service vending machines where customers insert coins or use their card to buy hot food.

Individual food lockers sit on top of each other and are lined up in rows. Staff top them up throughout the day.

Automats require fewer employees and a smaller real estate footprint than standard fast food restaurants.

Horn and Hardart opened the US’ first automat in Philadelphia 1902 and went on to dominate the industry in the US: By the 1950s, the company operated almost 50 automats in Philadelphia and more than 100 in New York.

Horn & Hardart's
A Horn & Hardart’s Restaurant at 42nd Street and Third Avenue, New York City, early November 1965. Because of a blackout that hit most of the northeast, crowds jammed the restaurants and ate up almost everything in sight.

The popularity of automats has since dwindled in the US, and Horn and Hardart’s last NYC site closed in 1991. As software and hardware progressed, San Francisco chain Eatsa developed a chain of more high-tech alternatives, but it closed its doors in July 2019, too.

The pandemic, however, is giving automats a new lease of life. Some companies are trying to innovate beyond the traditional automat models, and “the time certainly seems right,” according to Tim Sanford, editor of trade publication Vending Times.

While automats typically sell pre-made food, a new automat restaurant opened in New Jersey in 2021 that makes food to order. Automat Kitchen has a patented ordering and pick-up system that delivers items to customers through a wall of lockable LCD boxes.

Automat Kitchen
Automat Kitchen in New Jersey is attempting to revive the automat.

Customers order in advance via its website and get texted a code when the order is ready. Rather than enter this code into the locker, they can also reply to the text message to open the locker – making it an entirely touch-free experience.

The Boston Dumpling Shop is rolling out new-look automats, too. Its 24-hour locations, set to open in the spring, will let customers control their orders using their phone. The sites will range in size from 500 square feet to 1,000 square feet, and the lockers light up in blue for chilled items, and red for hot to-go orders.

Brooklyn Dumpling Shop with modernized automat lockers
Brooklyn Dumpling Shop is reviving the automat in New York City, home to the nation’s automat boom in the 1950s and 1960s.

Front- and back-of-house automation mean the restaurants could roughly halve their labor costs, developer Stratis Morfogen told Insider’s Nancy Luna. The company plans to open a site at the Oculus at the World Trade Center with mega-mall developer Westfield, Morfogen said.

Food lockers are being brought to residential buildings, workplaces, and university campuses, too

Food lockers aren’t limited to just restaurants.

Alchemista, which formerly provided corporate catering to clients including TripAdvisor and Moderna, has pivoted to providing patent-pending food lockers. The company is currently focused on expanding them to residential buildings, CEO Christine Marcus told Insider, but also plans to roll them out to offices, sports centers, and university campuses.

Alchemista
Alchemista plans to bring its food lockers to offices, sports centers, and university campuses.

You scan the QR code to unlock the locker and then pay via your phone, meaning you don’t even need an app to use them – and the whole process takes just four seconds, Marcus said.

Before the pandemic, companies were trying to boost their corporate perks with offerings such as free meals for staff. Marcus said these trends would continue after the pandemic but companies might pivot to food lockers rather than on-site catering to reduce their real estate footprint.

It will be a “very different world when people go back to work,” she said.

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