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The CEO of Popeyes' parent company breaks down the massive success of its chicken sandwich

Business Insider logo Business Insider 8/24/2019 Kate Taylor
a hand holding a sandwich © Irene Jiang / Business Insider

It's been a busy week for Jose Cil.

The CEO of Restaurant Brands International, parent company of Burger King, Popeyes, and Tim Hortons, sat down with Business Insider on Friday on the heels of the wild success of Popeyes' new chicken sandwich.

Cil said that Popeyes expected that people would love the chicken sandwich when they tried it, so early positive reviews last week did not come as a surprise. However, he admitted that the chicken sandwich battles on Twitter "exceeded our expectations a bit."

"There was a lot of back and forth, the so-called 'hashtag chicken wars,'" Cil said. "We were right in the middle of it."

a close up of a person eating food © Irene Jiang / Business Insider  

Wendy's, Popeyes, Chick-fil-A, and other chains were duking it out online over which brands served the best chicken sandwich. Customers were quick to take sides, with many supporting Popeyes' sandwich as the new king of chicken. Cil said his favorite response was from a woman who said her body "went limp" after the first bite.

According to Cil, Popeyes has been working on developing the chicken sandwich for more than a year, from the test kitchen, to getting new equipment in stores, to developing a marketing campaign.

In 2019, customers want fried chicken more than ever before. Cil said Popeyes has seen climbing boneless chicken sales as customers clamor for chicken tenders. Chicken sandwich sales have also been rising at sister brand Burger King.

In fast food, a quality burger is no longer enough to compete. In addition to Popeyes, Buffalo Wild Wings and Cracker Barrel have also rolled out new chicken sandwiches in recent months. McDonald's is planning to launch a spicy BBQ sandwich in mid-September, according to leaked documents shared with Business Insider in June.

a hand holding a half eaten sandwich © Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Still, the hype has its consequences. Popeyes locations across the US have reported shortages as massive crowds of people descend upon the locations.

"There are long queues in the restaurants, the drive-thrus are being stacked up - there's a lot of anticipation," Cil said. "We just need to make sure we deliver it well consistently in every restaurant, every day."

Cil said that it has been a "tough week" for many workers in stores. 

"They've worked really hard, and actually the success that we've seen with the launch of the chicken sandwich is really a success that's been driven by our franchise partners as well as our team members and the restaurants," he said.

Related video: Popeyes vs Chick-fil-A: Southerners do a blind taste-test [via USA TODAY]

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