McDonald's Takes on Chick-fil-A and Popeyes with New Chicken Sandwiches

The chain teased the test items with an image of a familiar-looking foil bag.

Will the end of 2019 also mark the end of the fast food chicken sandwich wars? McDonald's has already turned to Twitter to announce otherwise. The chain is taking a second stab at proving it's a worthy crispy chicken competitor with two new sandwiches that are launching today in a couple of test markets — while also teasing a potential national launch next year.


The news was announced yesterday in an oblique tweet stating, "Houston. Knoxville. Lunch tomorrow? No beef. [Chicken head emoji; winking face emoji]." The image, meanwhile, was a white pouch featuring a yellow chicken logo with the date "12/2." Then, to hammer the point home, MickeyD's got way more specific in its replies: "Our two new delicious chicken sandwiches!" the chain tweeted. "The Crispy Sandwich is simply topped with butter and crinkle cut dill pickles while the Deluxe is topped with tomatoes, lettuce, and mayo. Both served on a tasty buttery potato roll."


Reached for comment, a McDonald's spokesperson confirmed the news to Food & Wine. "We certainly meant no beef when we hinted at a new menu item arriving in some of our restaurants," the statement explained. "It's true, we're testing two new chicken sandwiches at participating restaurants in the Houston, Texas and Knoxville, Tennessee areas. The Crispy Chicken Sandwich and the Deluxe Crispy Chicken Sandwich will be tested beginning December 2 through January 26, 2020. Houston and Knoxville are getting a sneak peek, everyone else should stay tuned for what's to come in 2020."

Needless to say, that final line implies that a national rollout for these chicken sandwiches is practically inevitable. It's news that's equal parts surprising and not surprising at all as 2019 proved to be an extremely challenging year for McDonald's in the chicken department.

To recap as efficiently as possible, 2019 began with buzz about the surging fortunes of Chick-fil-A: The chain is so popular that it's poised to become America's third-largest fast food chain in sales, despite having fewer than half of the locations of its top competitors and only being open six days a week. Seeing this success, a coalition of McDonald's franchisees called the National Owners Association (NOA) sent a letter to corporate basically begging for a similar chicken sandwich in July. But in August, Popeyes beat them to the punch unleashing its own Popeyes Chicken Sandwich. By September, McDonald's was ready to join the fold, but with what was clearly a stopgap measure: the Spicy BBQ Chicken Sandwich — simply its pre-existing classic Buttermilk Crispy fillet with a new glaze.

But just because McDonald's wasn't able to turn something new around quickly, doesn't mean it doesn't want a piece of the pie — and these new Crispy Chicken Sandwiches would seem to more exactingly align to what franchisees asked for over the summer: "Our Southern Style Chicken sandwich was very close to category leading. It needs some tweaks," the NOA wrote in July. "We need to serve it in a foil bag and we need to butter the bun." Well, according to the official description sent to us by McDonald's, indeed, the new sammy will be "served on a sweet, buttery potato roll topped with butter" (that's butter mentioned twice!), and based on the chain's tweet, a foil bag appears to be part of the sandwich's identity as well.

So will this new Crispy Chicken Sandwich be able to compete with Chick-fil-A and Popeyes in the taste department? That's to be seen. But at the very least, McDonald's is clearly out to make its franchisees happy — and if it doesn't nail it in Houston and Knoxville, there's still time for tweaks before taking things across the country. It's something to stay tuned for in 2020.

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