Popeyes Has Found Its Next Hit Menu Item

After mere weeks, Popeyes is dominating the wing game—just like it did with its chicken sandwich.

First came the Popeyes chicken sandwich that ignited a battle among fast food chains. Next came several more riffs on that same concept. Now, America's second largest chicken chain is seeing similar success with its newest menu item: chicken wings. Restaurant Business reports that although they've only been around a few months, the wings are signaling a transformation of the Popeyes brand.

The runaway success of Popeyes wings

Popeyes first added wings to its permanent menu back in November. The lineup includes Ghost Pepper, Sweet 'N Spicy, Honey BBQ, Roasted Garlic Parmesan, and Signature Hot. The first two flavors had previous limited but successful runs on the Popeyes menu, while the latter three flavors were completely new additions.

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After just a few months, the CEO of Popeyes's parent company Restaurant Brands International says the fried chicken chain is the No. 3 provider of quick-service chicken wings in the country. The chicken wings have also increased Popeyes' delivery and digital sales, now accounting for 25% of overall sales. The wings, along with the chicken sandwiches, are part of a larger shift away from the traditional bone-in chicken offerings Popeyes has been known for throughout most of its 52-year history.

"We're all really excited about the new wings at Popeyes," Josh Kobza, CEO of RBI, said on the most recent earnings call. "Most people are probably surprised to know that Popeyes didn't have a flavored wing platform. So we're really happy we could do that."

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Popeyes’ big plans for 2024

Popeyes transformation doesn't just involve new menu items. The company has made upgrades to its kitchen designs specifically focused on improving the efficiency of making handheld and to-go items like the chicken sandwiches and wings. Indeed, Popeyes spent two years on the redesign of the kitchens, which now feature new equipment like automated batter makers and an updated production line. These improvements are part of Popeyes' multi-year plans to shift and transform its business away from the traditional bone-in fried chicken of the past.

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Popeyes is already so invested on building up its chicken wings business, in fact, that the company paid for a 30-second advertisement during the Super Bowl ad for the first time ever just to promote the wings. Those seconds don't come cheap; some brands paid millions to secure their slot. But Kobza noted that by running the ad, the brand was aiming for mass-market awareness. Considering that 123.7 million people tuned into this year's game, this is a sound strategy.

With the success of the wings propelling it forward, Kobza said Popeyes plans to add another 800 restaurant locations in the U.S. and Canada by 2028.

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