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This is a self-funded case study using our Innovation Testing solution.
Competition in the fast-food industry is rife; it's a hot-dog-eat-hot-dog world out there. With success only ever fleeting, brands require a constant stream of new innovation to keep up with the rapid pace of change. KFC’s Chicken Donut Sandwich is a prime example of just how far some brands are prepared to go in order to stand out!
This leads us to the Chicken Sandwich showdown currently taking place across America. The battle has been raging since mid-2019, with fast-food giants tripping over one another to release the ultimate cluckin’ chicken sandwich. (As highlighted by as many as 20 chains adding new and improved products to their menus over this time.)
In recent months, both Wendy’s and Burger King have joined the fight with their own Italian-inspired creations — coincidentally (or perhaps not…) introducing near identical offerings. Both sandwiches featured the same ingredients: chicken, marinara sauce, and mozzarella. However, each also had its own unique quirks. Wendy's focused on customization by offering a variety of filet options and a more ‘fancy’ garlic knot bun, while Burger King instead opted for a more economical potato bun.
Which new sandwich rose to the top of the pecking order? We found out the answer using our 3Cs methodology:
While both propositions were highly likeable and drew intrigue from consumers, Wendy’s take on the Italian-inspired chicken sandwich proved the more unique and original proposition. Though the formats were similar, the generously layered sandwich (featuring fried mozzarella and a crispy chicken filet packed between a twisted garlic bun) stood out versus Burger King’s more conventional offering.
Burger King’s sandwich wasn’t as elaborate as Wendy’s offering, retaining greater similarities with what people have come to expect from the brand. This was reflective of the brand’s reputation for innovation and its penchant for a good chicken parmesan sandwich (its first creation hitting stores in 1979 before making a return again in 2021 after a 7-year hiatus). It consequently elicited a little nostalgia from long-time customers. More generally, both products were considered natural extensions for the fast-food giants, seamlessly fitting within their respective wheelhouses.
The originality of Wendy’s Italian-inspired chicken sandwich resulted in a level of warmth given its ingenuity (particularly the fried mozzarella); however, this ultimately didn’t translate into strong claimed purchase. The more conventional Burger King equivalent (despite evoking similar taste and quality perceptions) was able to more effectively convince people of the chicken’s crispy texture. Factor in their respective price points ($7.99 for Wendy’s and $5.49 for Burger King) and the gap widened even further in favor of Burger King.
The results are in: Burger King’s Italian-inspired chicken sandwich was the one which consumers claimed they’d be more likely to buy. However, the Wendy’s alternative was the product with greater overall potential (without factoring in respective price points).
“…Huh?” we hear you asking.
Where a lot of market research gets it wrong is directly translating marketers’ questions into the ones they then ask consumers. Wouldn’t it be nice if it was this simple and easy to predict a product’s in-market success!
Unfortunately, humans are imperfect, irrational creatures; what motivates their behavior isn’t always things they’re consciously aware of. It’s why, then, that when consumers claim they’ll do something, we should always treat it with a level of skepticism.
Wendy’s chicken sandwich strayed from the conventional and offered a more alluring combination of ingredients — which drew people into the proposition. However, its more indulgent composition also saw some hesitate, wondering whether the flavors would work in harmony. Toning back some of the cheese excesses — while keeping its novelty factor intact — would help Wendy’s new creation alleviate tension and hit the sweet spot.