Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
If you don't offer a chicken sandwich, can you really claim to offer fast food?
Or even any food at all?
The curiously spiced chicken sandwich has become America's chosen go-to dish--when America wants to eat vast amounts of fried food but feel a little better about itself, that is.
Chick-fil-A and Popeyes have been performing an increasingly intense, chicken-legged pas-de-deux of late. But now McDonald's wants in on the dance and it's testing not one, but two chicken sandwiches. Well, that's what can happen when your franchisees nag you non-stop.
You'd think, then, that these three considerable companies would have made all possible preparations for the competition to come. Yet it seems they may have forgotten a very big fundamental.
Bloomberg reports that there's been something of a shortage of chickens. More specifically, the smaller chickens that sacrifice their lives so that you can have your Popeyes. And your Chick-fil-A.
And there you were thinking that any old chicken went into your favorite sandwich. You assumed it was all about the frying technique and the spices. It seems not.
The breasts of smaller chickens are tastier and require less labor to insert into a sandwich. This is something Wendy's anticipated. In 2017, it invested $30 million in smaller varieties.
At the time, perhaps few realized the potential consequences. At the time, Wendy's boasted:
Wendy's is further enhancing the flavor and tenderness of its chicken by partnering with its suppliers to use 20 percent smaller birds -- far surpassing the standards of other restaurant brands. While chicken-quality issues around toughness have been reported across the industry, this change will significantly and immediately improve the tenderness and juiciness of chicken for Wendy's U.S.-based customers.
Now, with chicken-sandwich competition reaching severe levels, a shortage of little chickens could lead to a touch of frustration among consumers of many fast food chains.
While they might fully expect their local quick-serve emporium to give them precisely the chicken sandwich they crave, those who raise the chickens haven't necessarily anticipated the depth of their enthusiasm.
Naturally, I contacted Chick-fil-A, Popeyes, and McDonald's to ask if they were concerned. I failed to receive a response.
I also contacted Wendy's, whose spokesperson told me, in a manner far straighter than the company's Twitter feed:
We partner with a number of suppliers and do not anticipate any supply issues.
By some peculiar twist of fortune, America saw a 10 percent increase in the existence of larger chickens last year. And a 2 percent decrease in the existence of the smaller variety.
Please, I don't wish to foment panic.
But we've recently been here. Several times. Who can forget KFC's completely running out of any kind of chicken in the U.K. and trying to save their skins -- the management's, not the chickens' -- by creating clever ads to paper over their embarrassment.
You might also remember last year when Popeyes had to suspend sales of its chicken sandwich precisely because -- this wasn't too clear at the time -- it couldn't get its hands on any more little chickens.
The lesson here can be painful. If you're heading into deeply competitive winds, make sure to secure your supply chain. Especially if you're in an industry that moves as quickly as fast food.
It's easy to get wrapped up in saber-rattling and tweet-trolling, only to discover you don't have the fundamentals covered at all.
Who'd be surprised, indeed, if the fact that little chickens are in short supply leads to an increase in their price? Who'd be surprised if that price increase was then -- subtly, of course -- passed on to customers? That's a hard thing to do in such a price-conscious market.
There's no indication that Americans' adoration of fried chicken is about to pass.
It's never worth disappointing such enthusiastic customers.