Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen is permanently adding a Blackened Chicken Sandwich to its menu Tuesday, marking the first addition to its chicken sandwich line since it kicked off the craze four years ago.
The new menu item features a chicken breast that’s been marinated for 12 hours and seasoned with Cajun spices, but it lacks the breading of the chain’s existing chicken sandwich. Popeyes President Sami Siddiqui said in a statement that the Blackened Chicken Sandwich gives diners “a lighter option that is perfect for everyday.”
The Restaurant Brands International chain is also allowing customers to add bacon and Havarti cheese to all of its chicken sandwiches, starting at $1.50 extra.
The menu changes suggest Popeyes is leaning on the popularity of its chicken sandwich to draw in customers. The broader restaurant industry has seen visits fall as customers pull back on eating out to manage their budgets.
When the chain first launched the menu item four years ago, it sold out in less than a month, helped in part by a feud on social media with Chick-fil-A. The chicken sandwich returned permanently several months later, driving double-digit same-store sales growth for Popeyes for multiple quarters. Even when pandemic lockdowns pummeled restaurant sales, Popeyes was the rare chain to report soaring demand.
Other chains entered the arena, trying to show up Popeyes with their own chicken sandwiches. The extra competition, combined with its higher sales baseline overall, have resulted in less impressive growth for Popeyes recently. In the first quarter, its U.S. same-store sales rose just 3.4%.
Popeyes has also been pushing beyond its chicken sandwich to increase sales. It added Ghost Pepper Wings to its menu permanently after the spicy limited-time item sold out in just two weeks in January.
Shares of parent company Restaurant Brands have risen 16% this year, fueled by early signs that a turnaround of its U.S. Burger King business is taking hold. The company has a market value of $23.4 billion.