By Hilary Russ
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Kentucky Fried Chicken on Tuesday will begin testing an overhauled sandwich featuring a bigger chicken filet and other modifications that could reignite last year's Great Chicken Sandwich Wars with rivals Popeyes and Chick-fil-A.
KFC, a unit of Yum! Brands Inc, will sell the new version of its chicken sandwich for 26 days - or until supplies run out - at 15 locations in and around Orlando, Florida for $3.99.
The larger chicken filet will come on a brioche bun with thick pickle slices and mayonnaise. That appears to be similar to traits that have made rivals' sandwiches such a hit with customers.
"We realized that our sandwich wasn't the one to beat and that wasn't okay for us," Andrea Zahumensky, KFC's chief marketing officer in the United States, told Reuters.
Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, a unit of Restaurant Brands International Inc, introduced a chicken sandwich and social media campaign in August 2019 that launched a war with the dominant chicken brand by market share, privately owned Chick-fil-A.
U.S. same-store sales for Popeyes soared and remained high, up 29% in the first quarter of 2020. KFC sales for the same period dropped 8%, according to I/B/E/S data from Refinitiv.
Popeyes this month launched its first store in China – in Shanghai – to huge crowds.
Even burger-centric McDonald's Corp began testing a chicken sandwich by December on the urging of franchisees eager to tap into the trend.
KFC began reworking its existing chicken sandwich in the middle of 2019, Zahumensky said, testing pickles with different thicknesses and brines and working with six different bakeries to try at least 10 variations of buns.
KFC made another move last year, with a trial of a plant-based fried chicken product that sold out within about five hours, Zahumensky said.
"It was a great year for fried chicken," Zahumensky said.
(Reporting by Hilary Russ in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)