On The Logistics Of The Chicken Wars

As I have made clear on several occasions, I am very fond of beefs between competing restaurants [1].  Earlier this week social media (or at least that portion of it I was paying attention to) was filled with a great deal of enthusiasm for a chicken war between Chick-Fil-A and Popyeye’s, two nationwide fast food restaurants that make millions of dollars selling chicken products.  Now, I think it must be admitted at the outset that I like both of these restaurants.  Chick-Fil-A took some heat for conservative politics and has some amazing marketing and I love their chicken strips, plain chicken sandwiches, sweet tea, and cheesecake (though sadly their Oregon locations do not have the cheesecake like the Florida ones did when I was a young adult).  On the other hand, Popeye’s has great fried chicken and biscuits, tasty cajun side dishes I really enjoy, and also has amazing sweet tea as well as tasty apple pie and other desserts.  I would say that I like both restaurants about equally although go to Popeye’s more because they offer more food for roughly the same amount of money, but I definitely enjoy both businesses.

As a relatively unbiased spectator of their attempts at drumming up sales for both restaurants, I can appreciate what both companies do when it comes to chicken.  There are, as one might imagine, many ways that chicken can be prepared that is enjoyable to eat.  One can fry it in various oils (peanut oil is a personal favorite), bake it, broil it, grill it.  One can dice it up and put it in salads, put bread crust on it, take out the bones on it, put various sauces and rubs on it, put it in thousands of tasty dishes with various spices and accoutrements.  One can even take chicken feet (which I otherwise do not like) and boil it into fantastic chicken stock for tasty soups.  One can eat chicken prepared various ways as finger food, enjoy it on salads, eat it with pasta or rice or various cooked vegetables, eat it in sandwiches or strips or nuggets or tacos or quesadillas or another other number of other packaging, and can have it breakfast, lunch, and dinner, though I tend to have it mostly for lunch and dinner.  One can put it in pot pies or eat it off of a toothpick and go on and on about the recipes it can be used in Forrest Gump-style.

Yet when one is a chicken restaurant engaged in a war with a rival company that serves tasty varieties of the same base protein, logistics are of the utmost importance.  It should go without saying–if you want to sell people chicken, you need to have chicken to sell them.  And it so happens that at least the nearest Popeye’s location, where I had dinner last night while reading some Marcus Didius Falco mysteries, failed at the very essential task of having chicken to sell.  Now, they had plenty of the chicken I was looking for–mild chicken pieces–but they were already out of chicken sandwiches by the time I arrived at the restaurant, leaving them subject to some mocking and ridicule by their customers as they unsuccessfully dealt with large crowds of people eating, and they (perhaps more difficult to forgive) quickly ran out of sweet tea as well.  If one is making an advertising campaign based on the quality of one’s chicken sandwich, it behooves a restaurant to have enough of said chicken sandwiches for one’s customers by the time that dinner rolls around.  This sort of logistical concern is pretty basic.

And such logistics seem to be difficult for companies to deal with.  When one uses marketing to drive up demand for a particular item, it is not always easy to ensure that restaurants have enough of said items to deal with the increased demand that comes their way, not least in a day and age where just-in-time processes limit the amount of spare inventory that can be devoted to handling demand spikes.  This can be particularly unforgiving when it comes to the restaurant business, where people want to eat and want to eat right then, no matter if one is not going to have enough chicken sandwiches for a day or two when the next shipments come in.  “I’m hungry now, and you promised me the best chicken sandwiches around and don’t have them,” does not tend to lead to happy interactions between businesses and potential customers.  And here Popeye’s is at a bit of a disadvantage relative to its competitor in the chicken wars because it offers bone in chicken as well as chicken strips and sandwiches, has mixed dishes of chicken and various types of unclean seafood, and has its bone-in chicken in both mild and spicy varieties (I go for mild myself).  Meanwhile, Chick-Fil-A has a more limited menu that has chicken strips of a couple varieties as well as chicken sandwiches of limited types.  The fact that Popeye’s must make more chicken of more varieties does put it at a bit of a disadvantage when one of those items is particularly popular, which makes one wonder why they picked this fight in the first place without having the logistics to handle it.

[1] See, for example:




About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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4 Responses to On The Logistics Of The Chicken Wars

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    The specific term for Chick-Fil-A’s success over Popeye’s is called “mis-en-place” which refers to food preparation. The former can purchase chicken in bulk, thus making preparation a breeze–very quick and cost efficient. Popeye’s, on the other hand, is forced to buy its chicken pre-cut and then sort the packages–a step Chick-Fil-A can omit. This, plus its addition of catfish, shrimp, etc., and different levels of seasonings–although appealing to a wider market–cut deeply into the bottom line in both time and cost. You are very right in your assessment that Popeye’s didn’t take these factors into account when initiating this competition. This fiasco would have been avoided by having a simple discussion with someone remotely knowledgeable in comparative production models.

    • I would have thought it would have been more profitable for Popeye’s to try to compete with, say, KFC or Church’s Fried Chicken given that both of them are also, like Popeye’s, similarly involved in a lot of different product lines. Thanks for the nice French expression there; I will have to add it to my discussion of restaurants, or whatever sort of efficiency aspects of food logistics I choose to talk about in the future :D. Like some fast food restaurants (here McDonald’s comes to mind), Chick-Fil-A has focused on mise-en-place to increase its efficiency while Popeye’s efficiency is notably lacking, sadly.

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