Fast Food Chicken Sandwiches Just Saw A Serious Shakeup

Popeyes has surpassed KFC, but Chick-fil-A still has them both beat.

I didn't grow up eating fried chicken, so the major fast food chicken chains never found their way into my rotation. All of that changed, however, upon the advent of the Popeyes chicken sandwich in 2019, which kicked off the chicken sandwich wars nationwide. Popeyes' competitors, even the non-chicken ones like McDonald's and Burger King, all came around and launched chicken sandwiches of their own. Meanwhile, Chick-fil-A—which claims to have originated the chicken sandwich as we know it—sat back and watched the chaos unfold. After all, it's America's number one chicken chain, and the third biggest fast food chain by sales, just behind McDonald's and Starbucks. What does Chick-fil-A care about these wars?

Popeyes still isn't close to beating Chick-fil-A's sales, but it did just get some good news: It has surpassed KFC in the rankings to become the second most popular chicken chain in the United States.

Okay, "surpassed" might not actually be the right word, as CNBC reports that both Popeyes and KFC lost market share this year. KFC, however, was the bigger loser, going from 16.1% to 11.3%. Popeyes, on the other hand, went from 15% to 11.9%. I guess losing is the new winning.

Honestly, I'm not surprised that Popeyes has overtaken KFC—in fact, I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner. It's pretty much the consensus opinion that Popeyes is the superior chain, at least over the past few years. Plenty of famous chefs have sung its praises, with James Beard Award winner J. Kenji López-Alt even going as far to say that it's the best fried chicken, period.

"They have the crust down perfect," he told Vice in 2019. "The right level of craggliness. Very salty. High surface area. They get crispy all over. There aren't any soggy spots."

The "soggy spots" are my main issue with KFC, where even the "extra crispy" chicken often comes out soggy. I live two minutes from a KFC, and I'll go right past it to walk ten minutes to Popeyes. The only thing KFC has going for it is that it serves Pepsi. (Sorry, not sorry.) Although KFC has slipped in the U.S., it's been doing well internationally. Anecdotally, I've found that KFC in Scotland is way better than KFC in the U.S. What gives?

So, the question remains: If KFC and Popeyes both lost market share over the past year, where did it all go? To Chick-fil-A, of course. The top chicken chain increased its market share by 7% this year, up to 45.5%, increasing its lead over its competitors—all this, despite being closed on Sundays! I've only had Chick-fil-A twice in my life, and I think it's because its hours don't align with when I'm consuming fast food. Start staying open until 3 a.m., Chick-fil-A, and then see how much your revenue grows.