KFC is still one of the top fast-food chains in the country in 2023, but it's struggling to compete with its biggest rivals.
Popeyes just unseated KFC as America's second biggest chicken chain in terms of market share, or the percentage of total sales in an industry that goes to one company. CNBC, citing Barclays bank research data, was the first to report on the change this week.
KFC's market share fell from 16.1% to 11.3% over the past year, according to Barclays research. Popeyes' market share also decreased from 15% to 11.9% over the past year, but it still holds a bigger piece of the pie than KFC. Meanwhile, Chick-fil-A remains America's top chicken chain—and it's more popular than ever. The chain's market share rose from 38.3% to 45.5% over the past year.
The loss of the #2 spot is the latest blow to KFC, which was once the top chicken chain until Chick-fil-A took the crown around a decade ago, per CNBC. The intense competition from its two main rivals seems to be a major factor in why it's losing favor with customers in 2023.
Chick-fil-A, for example, has been a leader in the fast-food industry as a whole for nearly a decade. Specifically, it beats out the rest of its competitors in one very important metric: customer satisfaction. Customers have rated Chick-fil-A as their favorite fast-food chain in the country for nine consecutive years in the annual American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) Restaurant Study. When it earned the coveted title again this June, the ACSI said that Chick-fil-A's "exceptional combination of food, service, and technological quality" has allowed it to continuously top all the other major fast-food chains in customer satisfaction.
According to CNBC, industry experts also attribute Chick-fil-A's continued success to its famously friendly servers, limited menu, and efficient drive-thru lanes.
Meanwhile, Popeyes has proven to be a tough competitor for KFC as well, especially after it introduced a string of wildly popular menu items in recent years. Popeyes was the chain that ignited the chicken sandwich wars back in 2019 with the debut of its famous fried chicken sandwich. Plenty of other fast-food chains created their own premium chicken sandwiches after Popeyes' launch to cash in on the craze. However, KFC was slow to hop on the trend and didn't launch its upgraded chicken sandwich until over a year later.
To this day, many customers still rate Popeyes' version as the best chicken sandwich on the fast-food market. Popeyes has continued to innovative with its menu ever since. Some of the most exciting additions included the first-ever dessert biscuit, more chicken sandwiches, and, most recently, Sweet n' Spicy Wings which became the chain's most popular product launch since its signature chicken sandwich hit menus in 2019.
It's certainly possible that KFC could reclaim its #2 spot since it isn't too far behind Popeyes in terms of market share. But Popeyes seems to think that it can keep up the positive momentum.
President Sami Siddiqui told CNBC in a statement that they see the "special milestone" of unseating KFC as #2 as "an indicator that we're headed in the right direction with much more growth to come."
KFC did not immediately respond to our queries for comment on Popeyes claiming the #2 spot.