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Southern-Style Goes Mainstream
Why we’re seeing more Southern-style chicken offerings on the market.
Southern-style chicken biscuit

Joining a space once occupied solely by Southeastern chicken chains such as Bojangles, Grandy’s, and Mrs. Winner’s, Arby’s recently added a Southern-style chicken sandwich to its repertoire. The two-sandwiches-for-$4 deal Arby’s is promoting kicked off late last month. Hardee’s, another Southeastern favorite—one that ironically moved away from its chicken roots in favor of oversized burgers—is aggressively hyping a chicken breakfast biscuit in the Midwest, while McDonald’s, which began testing a Southern-style sandwich in the summer of 2006, launched its version of the chicken breakfast biscuit earlier this month and is planning a roll out of the sandwich later this spring. The No. 1 fast-food chain will tempt customers next month by giving away samples of the chicken sandwich.

So is there a Southern-style chicken battle hatching? Perhaps, but the rollouts and promotions might be more about rising commodity prices and widening menu selection than taking on Chick-fil-A—whose signature sandwich both Arby’s and McDonald’s offerings mimic, even down to the two pickles.

“Things ebb and flow,” says Brad Haley, executive vice president of marketing for CKE, parent company of Hardee’s. “The pendulum swings in this business. Chicken sandwiches at breakfast might seem unfamiliar to people, but with the prices of commodities, chicken is still a relatively affordable protein. And for us, it gives our customers more variety.”

“There is no particular trend or fad here,” says Bob Sandelman, CEO of Sandelman and Associates, a San Clemente, California-based foodservice consumer research firm.

“The burger and some of the sandwich chains can certainly compete with chicken chains. It’s easy for them to do that and easier than for a chicken chain to introduce a burger.” From a consumer standpoint, Sandelman explains, there is great interest in healthy eating, and beyond those connotations, quick-serve visitors are seeking variety.

“Chicken has a healthier aura than burgers and fries. It makes sense that non-chicken chains are introducing these new items,” he adds. “Beyond that, they want wider menu variety, which is why chains like Pizza Hut introduced pasta dishes.

“Arby’s has quite a nice chicken sandwich menu already,” Sandelman says. “They are just adding some variety. And some of these new menu items can be limited time offers. There’s not a lot of brand loyalty in the quick-serve industry. It’s whatever attracts the customer.”

Darren Tristano, EVP at consulting firm Technomic, agrees, especially when it comes to the breakfast daypart.

“When you are talking specifically about breakfast, we all think of egg, bacon, sausage and cheese on a bagel, English muffin, or croissant,” he says. “Chicken is perceived as a more healthy item and there is an opportunity here to be had. Chicken chains are looking at it the same way burger chains are.”

Chicken sandwiches at breakfast might seem unfamiliar to people, but with the prices of commodities, chicken is still a relatively affordable protein. And for us, it gives our customers more variety.”

Even traditional chicken chains such as Chick-fil-A are becoming more aggressive when it comes to breakfast. The king of the Southern-style chicken sandwich introduced an extensive line-up of chicken breakfast products—including a burrito and mini biscuits— three years ago.

“We’re still not seeing it from KFC, but I think you are going to see more from the chicken chains. This will be a great way for them to get ahead of the curve,” Tristano adds. “McDonald’s and Burger King have done quite well with chicken products. We’re not seeing a strong push from the chicken chains yet, but some of the more successful ones are doing breakfast now.”

Ultimately, Tristano says, consumers gravitate toward taste, and because chicken has a healthy perception, breakfast daypart customers will most likely feel better about what they are eating.

“It’s kind of like the person who eats a salad with an 800-calorie dressing on it,” he explains. “You have an underdeveloped daypart, breakfast. Lunch and dinner have been very well developed, but breakfast is one of those meals that is either skipped or eaten at home, and this is an opportunity for [quick-serves] to grow the daypart as opposed to growing their market share at the expense of their competitors.”