When it comes to little chickens, the sky is falling.
The fast-food chicken sandwich had a big year in 2019. Popeyes introduced their new chicken sandwich, which quickly sold out. The sandwich sold so well, in fact, that it was unavailable for several months. Other chains responded, either by reminding customers of their own chicken offerings or introducing new chicken products of their own.
A surprising side effect of the newfound popularity of chicken sandwiches is that the smaller chickens used to make these dishes are becoming harder and harder to come by, Bloomberg reports. According to the outlet, the shortage of these smaller chickens played a role in Popeye’s struggles to keep their sandwiches in stock.
Larger chickens produce meat that’s “tough and tasteless,” according to Scott Sechler, the owner of poultry producer Bell & Evans, who spoke with Bloomberg. Smaller birds tend to be juicier and more tender.
David Maloni, executive vice president of analytics at supply-chain consultant ArrowStream, told Bloomberg that smaller birds also take fast-food chains less labor as the meat doesn’t need to be cut apart to fit the buns.
In 2019, Chick-fil-A’s total sales rose by 13%, while Popeyes' same-store sales rose 10%.
“Whatever demand growth we might have on smaller breasts, there’s no new supply to meet that demand,” Will Sawyer, an animal-protein economist at Colorado-based rural lender CoBank ACB, told Bloomberg. “Everyone wants a bite out of that market.”