Zaxby’s Is Reigniting the Chicken Sandwich War

The southern franchise is bringing back the beef to promote its new menu item

Zaxby's is an underdog in the chicken sandwich fight. Zaxby's
Headshot of Emmy Liederman

Last summer, Popeyes made waves by adding a highly-anticipated chicken sandwich to its menu, which the franchise described as its biggest product launch in 30 years. After the launch, things got ugly when Chick-fil-A, Shake Shack and Wendy’s began to plead their cases on why their own chicken sandwich will always dominate the market. 

But just when it felt like the chicken sandwich wars had become old news, KFC entered the race in May. Now, Zaxby’s is bringing the heat on Twitter, announcing this week that “The chicken sandwich war ain’t over yet.” The southern chicken franchise has introduced its own product, which is competitive in size and flavored with the new spicy Zax sauce. 

Zaxby’s is bringing back the beef—or rather, chicken—after perfecting its sandwich and developing a marketing campaign with agency Tombras. The franchise took its time to develop a product that would not let its supporters down, according to CMO Joel Bulger.

“The sandwich war was too big to ignore,” he said. “Social media is the pulse of pop culture, and we knew we could count on our Twitter fanbase to rally for our cause and bring our sandwich to the forefront.”

Zaxby’s chicken sandwich is currently available in five test markets, and the franchise has plans to expand its new product in 2021. Bulger said entering the sandwich war was the key to heightened social media engagement—Zaxby’s has seen a 1,000% increase in Twitter engagement compared to Q3.

“We knew that this angle would be a great way to introduce our sandwich,” he said. “In light of everything that is going on in the world right now, it’s a nice distraction.”

Zaxby’s has acknowledged it is the underdog in this fight due to the size of its franchise. It’s hard to go for a drive anywhere in the U.S. without spotting a Popeyes or KFC, while a Zaxby’s can only be found in 17 states. But the franchise refuses to chicken out.

“Zaxby’s is a laid-back, energetic brand,” Bulger said. “When we said ,’Y’all ready,’ it was really a question for everyone. We are the only ones that are actually saying that our sandwich is the best.”

Its battle plan? If Zaxby’s was going to compete with the big guys, it was going to need a bigger sandwich. 

Zaxby’s has created two military-themed spots, proving that it has really taken this whole war thing to heart. The campaigns feature real military veterans and was shot at Blue Cloud Ranch, which was also used in military movies such as American Sniper and Black Hawk Down. Zaxby’s employees are also sporting shirts with camouflage chickens and the words “Go Big.”

If KFC and Popeyes think this food fight is over, Colonel Zaxby warns his competition to not count their chickens before they hatch. 

“Not only did we want to put out the perfect sandwich, but we wanted to make sure that our plan could be executed,” Bulger said. “It’s been in stores for about 10 days and has more than tripled our expectations.”

Emmy is a senior journalism major at The College of New Jersey with minors in Spanish and broadcast journalism. She has previously worked as editor-in-chief of her college newspaper, The Signal, as well as an intern at Tribune Publishing Company. Emmy is looking forward to contributing to Adweek as an intern working with its breaking news and audience engagement teams.