Popeyes' fried chicken sandwich becomes the nation's fast-food of choice during COVID-19

A quarantined country feeling uneasy about the coronavirus pandemic apparently has a hankering for the now legendary, yet comforting Popeyes fried chicken sandwich.

Restaurant Brands International (QSR) said Friday that first quarter same-store sales for its Popeyes brand surged 26.2% in large part because of interest in the returning popular chicken sandwich that blew up in popularity in late 2019. After cooling off toward the end of the first quarter as people ate packaged food from home, Restaurant Brands CEO Jose Cil tells Yahoo Finance sales at Popeyes have regained strength in April.

“It was a really strong quarter even with the impact of COVID-19 the last two weeks of the quarter. As we said, we have seen some progress back to pre-COVID levels [at Popeyes]. What we saw coming out of the fourth quarter when we relaunched the chicken sandwiches continues here. Plus, we have advanced quite a bit on the delivery front. Delivery is growing significantly. Our mobile order and pickup has taken off as well. There is a lot of positive momentum there,” Cil said on Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade.

Cil is quick to note it’s not just solely a chicken sandwich story at Popeyes.

This Aug. 21, 2019, photo, shows Popeye's new chicken sandwich, the spicy version, in New Rochelle, N.Y. (AP Photo/Julia Rubin)
This Aug. 21, 2019, photo, shows Popeye's new chicken sandwich, the spicy version, in New Rochelle, N.Y. (AP Photo/Julia Rubin)

“The chicken sandwich helped bring people in. But the whole menu is growing. Our whole chicken menu is growing quite a bit. We have added quite a bit of family bundles. As people are staying home and staying close to the family unit you are seeing folks order out in bigger amounts,” Cil added.

Same-store sales at Tim Horton’s and Burger King fell 10.3% and 3.7%, respectively. Both chains have far more exposure to international operations than Popeyes, which remains mostly a U.S. focused business — one that is open for delivery. Stores for Tim Horton’s and Burger King overseas continue to be closed in a good number of instances.

Restaurant Brands shares fell 3% by afternoon trading Friday as inventory digested the mixed quarter. Adjusted earnings came in at 48 cents a share, falling shy of analyst projections by a penny. Sales of $1.23 billion narrowly surpassed forecasts for $1.22 billion.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-anchor of The First Trade at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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