Happy National Fried Chicken Day! Americans love their fried chicken. In fact, of the top five biggest fast-food restaurant chains in the United States, three are mainly focused on chicken.
Perhaps our ever-growing fondness of fried chicken is due to the low chicken prices in 2016, which lead to many chicken additions on fast-food menus. Even in 2018, it still seems as though fast-food restaurants are scrambling to offer more chicken options.
In honor of National Fried Chicken Day, we looked into the top fried chicken brands to see who wins America’s heart and wallet.
(Rankings are based on the 2017 QSR 50 Chicken Segment.)
With more than 700 restaurants in the United States, Bojangles saw a revenue increase of 6.2% in the fourth quarter of 2017 when compared to the fourth quarter of 2016, with a revenue of $48.8 million in Q4 2017. This fried chicken fast-food restaurant, founded in Charlotte, NC, in 1977, only serves the Southeastern states of the United States and D.C. The fried chicken restaurant prides themselves on their southern recipes as is evident in their marketing campaign videos, like the one featured below. Because the brand “grew up in the kitchen,” their chefs use traditional southern recipes to bring people together over a great old-fashioned biscuit.
With more than 800 restaurants in the Southeast and ranked #10 on Forbes’ Best Fast-Food Franchises list, Zaxby’s is one of the fastest-growing chains. Their system-wide sales increase of 15.8% in 2016, which brought $1.89 million their way. Zaxby’s gives their food a voice, literally, in their latest marketing campaign. From salads to chicken wings, Zaxby’s food brags about its taste, crunch and more.
Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen finished their fiscal year of 2017 strong with systemwide sales growth of 6.1%, resulting in $835.8 million in sales. The global fried chicken brand is headquartered in Atlanta, GA, but was founded in New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA), and has more than 2,600 restaurants worldwide. To bring their marketing strategy back to their roots, Popeyes invested in spokesperson “Annie” in 2008. With a thick NOLA accent, Diedrie Henry plays Annie, putting the Louisiana flavor back into their menu. “When Annie is talking, she is characterizing [Popeyes] as being from Louisiana, so we don't have to spend time convincing people we're different, because Louisiana is differentiation enough [in the chicken category]," said Popeyes Chief Brand Experience Officer Dick Lynch.
Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), the fried chicken fast-food restaurant headquarters in Louisville, KY, is owned by YUM! Brands, who saw $3.5 million in sales last year. KFC now has more than 21,400 restaurants worldwide. Carrying its parent company with a 6% increase in worldwide system sales, KFC delivers a stellar marketing campaign with Colonel Sanders, who was brought back as an ode to tradition. In 2015, the brand enlisted 11 celebrity portrayals of Colonel Sanders. The legend of Colonel Sanders began in 1930 when service-station operator Harland Sanders was appointed honorary Colonel by Governor Ruby Laffoon because of Sanders’ incredible cooking skills. KFC’s latest marketing ads feature Reba McEntire, the first female to ever depict the fried chicken mascot.
Buzzfeed predicts, “Chick-fil-A will become the third largest fast-food chain in terms of sales, behind McDonald’s and Starbucks.” The chicken brand, where the “A” at the end of Chick-fil-A is not only a play on words but also stands for Grade A meat, was founded in College Park, Georgia, in 1946 and specializes in chicken sandwiches at all of their 2,300+ brick and mortar locations in the United States and Canada. Chick-fil-A reported $9 billion in sales in 2017, which was up $1 billion from the previous year. Generally, the fast-food joint’s brand is polite, upbeat and positive. Their marketing campaigns typically feature cows advocating for the consumption of Chick-fil-A’s chicken sandwiches, like the billboard above. The cow campaign, arguably one of the most notable in the fast-food marketing industry, was born in 1995 when Chick-fil-A challenged its marketers to produce three-dimensional billboards. To stand out from the plethora of other fast-food billboards featuring giant burgers, Chick-fil-A went with a subject that would want consumers to visit Chick-fil-A and avoid eating beef: cows.
Whether it’s chicken and biscuits or chicken sandwiches with pickles, America can’t get enough. And the fried chicken craze doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, judging by the success from these five franchises.
Curious about other fast-food restaurant rankings? Take a look at our Pizza! Pizza! Pizza! Pizza! article to see the top four pizza chains duke it out.