KFC is testing a new chicken sandwich

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The new KFC Chicken Sandwich has bigger filet, more pickles and a better bun than its predecessor. (KFC)

(CNN) — Don’t count out the colonel in the chicken sandwich wars.

KFC has begun testing a new, premium chicken sandwich in Orlando, Florida. The fast-food chain, which has chicken in its name, has surprisingly found itself playing catch-up against rival chains’ sandwiches. Popeyes, Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s have tantalized customers’ taste buds with new takes on the classic sandwich.

With the aptly titled “KFC Chicken Sandwich,” KFC is testing an extra crispy chicken filet placed on a buttered brioche bun and topped with pickles and spicy or classic mayonnaise. It costs $3.99 or a combination meal with fries and a medium drink costs $6.99.

KFC, owned by Yum! Brands, currently sells a similar sandwich called the “Crispy Colonel,” which debuted in April 2018.

The new version, according to Andrea Zahumensky, KFC’s chief marketing officer, “boasts an upgrade of every single component.” It includes a chicken filet that’s 20% larger. It has thicker pickles and a new type of bun to “hug it in the right way.” Fifteen locations in the Florida city will sell the sandwich through June 21.

KFC bemoaned that its chicken sandwich wasn’t the best, Zahumensky admitted. So KFC set out to develop a new one, which took about a year to develop.

“We launched into this process that we believe now is going to be able to compete,” she told CNN Business. “The ‘Crispy Colonel’ has a lot of fans, but we knew we could do better and it wasn’t good enough for us.”

Following the test’s conclusion, she said the new sandwich could roll out to KFC’s roughly 4,000 US locations quickly if it’s successful.

Chicken is a winner

Fried chicken sandwiches have been a bright spot for fast food chains, boosting sales as visits to restaurants stagnate.

Popeyes first introduced the popular menu item last August. Customers flocked to the chain and the sandwich sold out in less than two weeks. The company said at the time that the “extraordinary demand” took it by surprise and it took several months before it returned.

And it’s still popular: Sales at Popeyes restaurants open at least 17 months soared 26% globally in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same period last year, thanks to the sandwich. In the United States, that figure was 29%. Popeyes is owned by Restaurant Brands International, which also controls Burger King and Tim Hortons.

Chicken has also proven to be a successful formula for Chick-fil-A, the 73-year-old chain that has a devoted fan base despite its controversial past. The privately held brand is steadily growing its reach, outselling chicken chains nearly twice its size. It has added about 1,000 locations and nearly tripled its sales over the last decade.

Ranked by annual revenue, Chick-fil-A is the fifth-largest US restaurant chain after McDonald’s, Starbucks, Subway and Taco Bell — all of which have far more restaurants.

McDonald’s is dabbling in chicken. In addition to the McChicken, it tested out another crispy chicken sandwich with a potato roll in two US cities earlier this year. The new version could be a way to bring in more customers, better compete with rivals and placate its franchise operators, which have been lobbying hard for the menu item.

A beef shortage has also forced Wendy’s to shift some restaurants to primarily selling chicken items. It has added a variety of grilled and fried chicken sandwiches to its menu over the past year.

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