McDonald’s US franchisees ask for a Southern-style chicken sandwich to compete with Chick-fil-A

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French fries and a fried chicken sandwich are arranged for a photograph during an event ahead of the grand opening for a Chick-fil-A restaurant in New York, U.S.Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

McDonald’s U.S. franchisees want a chicken sandwich to rival Chick-fil-A’s as the Southern chain’s threat to their business continues to grow.

“A Chicken Sandwich at McDonald’s should be our top priority,” the National Owners Association board said in an email addressed to fellow operators on Wednesday.

U.S. franchisees formed the NOA last year as the Chicago-based company pushed discounts and expensive high-tech store renovations, which owners say were weighing on their profitability.

McDonald’s carries Chicken McNuggets and the McChicken sandwich. But the board wrote in the email that they do not compete in the premium chicken sandwich category, with either a grilled or crispy option.

“Chick Fil A’s results demonstrate the power of chicken,” the board wrote.

This year, Chick-fil-A ranked highest of all fast-food chains on the American Customer Satisfaction Index. McDonald’s landed at the bottom of the list despite investments meant to improve the consumer experience, like self-order kiosks.

Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A has also been expanding outside of its Southeast stronghold in recent years, opening locations in New York City and Seattle. According to Nation’s Restaurant News, the chicken chain is now the nation’s third-largest restaurant chain by sales, trailing only McDonald’s and Starbucks. McDonald’s has roughly 14,000 restaurants in the U.S., while Chick-fil-A operated 1,989 stand-alone restaurants and 363 “licensed units,” which are the non-traditional stadium, park and university locations, by the end of last year.

“You may not have Chick Fil A’s in your market or to the degree they have them in the southeast, but they are coming,” the board said in the email. “And they don’t discount.”

The board wrote that the results of McDonald’s U.S. Southeast market “should concern everyone.”

The board suggests that McDonald’s start by testing its Southern Style Chicken Sandwich, with some tweaks lifted from Chick-fil-A’s playbook — serving the sandwich in a foil bag and buttering the bun. McDonald’s pulled the sandwich from the national menu several years ago.

In October 2018, the chain started testing an Ultimate Chicken Sandwich at more than 160 locations in Washington state. The company is also planning to launch a spicy chicken sandwich and spicy chicken tenders in mid-September, according to Business Insider.

McDonald’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Since franchisees formed the NOA, the company has slowed the pace of its store remodels, allowing owners an additional two years to renovate in exchange for less corporate funding. The group will next meet in Dallas in October.

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