Popeyes Sells Out of Chicken Sandwiches, Putting Its Newfound Popularity at Risk

The chain burned through 2 months of inventory in 2 weeks

A note that says Chicken Sandwich (Be Right Back) from Popeyes.
Demand for the Popeyes chicken sandwich, now sold out, 'exceeded our very optimistic expectations,' the brand said.
GSD&M

Just as the emaciated steed of Famine follows closely behind the red stallion of War, so too are we now entering the next phase of the Chicken Sandwichpocalypse.

Popeyes today announced that it has sold through its entire launch inventory of chicken sandwiches—which was supposed to be enough to last through September. That means that once the inventory at each store is sold out, there won’t be a resupply until further notice.

Here’s the official statement Popeyes sent to Adweek:

“We have seen an extraordinary demand for the new Popeyes Chicken Sandwich following our nationwide launch on August 12. It has been amazing to see our guests share their love for our brand and for the new Chicken Sandwich on social media and beyond, and we are truly humbled and grateful for their support. The demand for the new Chicken Sandwich in the first few weeks following launch far exceeded our very optimistic expectations. In fact, Popeyes aggressively forecasted demand through the end of September and has already sold through that inventory. As a result, Popeyes restaurants across the country are expected to sell out of the Chicken Sandwich by the end of this week. We, along with our suppliers, are working tirelessly to bring the new sandwich back to guests as soon as possible.”

On Twitter, the brand was even more blunt, officially declaring it “sold out (for now)”:

In a move that’s tactically smart but could potentially rub fans the wrong way, the brand quickly followed up the bad news with a call to download its app for updates:

Popeyes, which declined to comment further beyond the above statement, has exploded to the forefront of the popular conversation around fast food over the past week thanks to the massive popularity of its new chicken sandwich. The product launch was amplified to unexpectedly soaring levels thanks largely to how it was embraced by Black Twitter, the highly active community that turned a menu addition into a cultural phenomenon.

Now the brand’s newfound fame and good will face a first and daunting test: surviving the backlash to news the product will be sold out indefinitely.

When KFC faced a similar inventory crisis in early 2018, hundreds of its U.K. locations were left without chicken and forced to close. The backlash against the brand was intense, though it managed to right the ship relatively quickly through a combination of supply chain improvements and the most unforgettable mea-culpa ad of all time, “FCK.”

Popeyes is obviously in a different situation, given that its other menu items remain in stock and the doors will stay open. But that doesn’t change the fact that the brand is risking the loss of a lot of cultural capital with each day that goes by sans sandwich.

Specifically, the brand’s attempt to turn fired-up sandwich seekers into app downloaders is proving polarizing:

In addition to the tweets about the suggested app download, the brand also got—as you might expect—a flood of responses mocking a chicken chain’s inability to keep chicken in stock.

Given that Popeyes kicked off the chicken sandwich wars on Twitter by mocking Chick-fil-A and then sparring with Wendy’s, we’ll be eager to see how other brands respond publicly to the shifting winds of poultry populism. For now, rivals have been quiet on Twitter, but that certainly won’t last.

It’s not often that a 50-year-old brand suddenly experiences a surge in fame, so it’s understandable that Popeyes wouldn’t be fully prepared to manage its moment in the spotlight of the viral news cycle. The brand has also been sharing its top-level leadership with sister chain Burger King, whose global CMO, Fernando Machado, has been playing the same role for Popeyes throughout 2019.

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