Burger King is bringing back Chicken Fries, the cult item that has appeared sporadically on its menu over the years, in an escalation of its battle with McDonald’s Corp. over poultry fare.
After a two-month trial last year that helped Burger King boost sales in the third quarter, Chicken Fries -- breaded, fried strips served in orders of nine pieces for a suggested price of $2.89 -- returned Monday as a permanent menu item.
“It’s definitely one of those products that has a life of its own,” Eric Hirschhorn, Burger King’s chief marketing officer for North America, said in a phone interview. “The passion has been incredible.”
Wholesale beef prices have hovered near a record high since July, prompting the fast-food industry to step up chicken promotions. McDonald’s brought back Chicken Selects this month after cutting the item in 2013 as part of an effort to streamline its menu. The poultry revival has even lead to McDonald’s and Burger King waging a price war over chicken nuggets.
“Everybody in our industry is trying to offset some of that commodity pressure,” Hirschhorn said. “But the idea of relaunching chicken fries has 100 percent to do with the passion of our guests.”
First sold in 2005, Burger King brought back Chicken Fries last year for about two months beginning in August and saw sales at established restaurants in the U.S. and Canada jump 3.6 percent. Chicken Fries are popular with drive-thru customers: They come packaged in a box that fits into a car cup holder and there’s a slot for sauces, so customers can “dip on the go,” Hirschhorn said.
Demand for chicken fries has largely been driven by social media, according to Burger King. To fuel publicity this time around, the company created a custom emoji keyboard so smartphone users can tweet about chicken fries.
“We see people using words less and less, and using emojis more and more, particularly to express their emotions,” he said. “Chicken fries are no different.”
The latest salvo in the 2015 chicken war comes after Burger King revived its 15-cent nugget promotion in January, soon after McDonald’s had rolled out a campaign trumpeting a 50-piece order of Chicken McNuggets for $9.99, or 20 cents each.
Burger King, which operates under Oakville, Ontario-based Restaurant Brands International Inc. following its takeover of Tim Hortons, is no longer airing advertisements supporting the nugget promotion, though some restaurants may still be honoring it, the company said. McDonald’s has shifted to selling a 20- piece order of nuggets for $4.99, or 25 cents each.
So far, Burger King hasn’t responded to another recent chicken move by McDonald’s, which said earlier this month it would stop serving chicken raised with some antibiotics at U.S. restaurants within two years. Hirschhorn said it is a “good step forward” for the fast food industry, but Burger King has no plans to make a similar announcement.
“It’s not something that we see customers demanding,” he said. “But we’re always looking at best practices and how we can incorporate them into our business.”