Taco Bell is Joining the Chicken Sandwich Wars

Taco Bell is Joining the Chicken Sandwich Wars

The new sandwich-taco hybrid has the appearance of a taco with the taste of a crispy chicken sandwich (Photo Courtesy of Taco Bell).

In a bid to enter the fast-food chicken sandwich space, Taco Bell announced it is testing a new Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco in select Nashville, Tennessee and Charlotte, North Carolina locations next month, followed by a nationwide rollout later this year. The Yum Brands Inc.-owned chain is a late and surprising entrant in the highly competitive, overly saturated chicken sandwich category.

The fried chicken sandwich/taco crossover is very on-brand for Taco Bell, a chain that is well known for its mash-ups, like the Doritos Locos Taco and nacho fries. The new offering contains a jalapeno buttermilk-marinated piece of fried white meat chicken and a crunchy tortilla chip topping, all held together in a piece of taco-shaped puffy bread. Like most competitors in the chicken sandwich wars, Taco Bell is also offering a spicy version, topped with additional jalapeno slices.

To most fast-foodies, Taco Bell is not top of mind in the chicken sandwich space. And while the new menu item is set to be the chain’s first “sandwich,” it is not the first chicken offering. Its menu features several chicken items, including the Naked Chicken Chalupa, Chicken Soft Taco and Chicken Quesadilla. However, the Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco differs from the rest since it’s fried and crispy rather than baked.

While its main attraction is beef, Taco Bell has been focusing its food innovation on chicken in the last year as chicken consumption grows and beef consumption remains relatively stagnant. Heather Mottershaw, Taco Bell’s vice president of product development, told Forbes, “When we think about the acceleration of new trends, it’s really clear for us that it’s chicken, and that means chicken as a whole category. We’re focused heavily in this area at the moment, so expect lots to come here.”

While Taco Bell slimmed down its menu early in the pandemic, it now has the momentum and motivation to successfully push out this additional menu item. This launch, and the launch of all chicken sandwiches, are about more than just consumer demand. Chains are relying on the breakthrough effect of the progressing chicken sandwich wars. This effect is exemplified by Popeyes, which has seen sales increase remarkably since its chicken sandwich launch, selling out of the popular item on multiple occasions.

With nearly every fast-food chain heavily focused on the chicken sandwich sector, Taco Bell has its work cut out for it to be a legitimate competitor, especially since it is not well-known for its chicken. It will be competing against rivals including McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, Chick-fil-A and even Shake Shack, which recently entered the chicken sandwich wars with their new Korean Fried Chicken sandwich.

But unlike established players in the chicken sandwich space, Taco Bell is banking on disruption. It is differentiating itself from the rest by not being just another chicken sandwich, but rather a taco and a sandwich combined. This approach may be the key to Taco Bell’s success in the chicken sandwich wars, and the chain is promising more crispy chicken items in the future.