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Fast food fights for chicken nugget dominance

Illustration by Kate Walker

Fast food fights for chicken nugget dominance


The Future. Chicken nuggets are all the rage right now, so fast food chains are rolling out new varieties, flavors, and recipes to capture the hearts (and stomachs) of younger customers. Considering the hoopla surrounding Popeye’s chicken sandwich drop a few years ago (seriously, it was a phenomenon), don’t be surprised if a new nugget becomes a cultural touchstone.

Bite of the competition
Chicken nuggets are at the (clogged) heart of the fast food wars.

  • McDonald’s recently reintroduced its Spicy Chicken Nuggets.
  • Burger King is expanding its Ghost Pepper Chicken Nuggets.
  • Popeye’s — which caused a stir in 2019 with its chicken sandwiches — rolled out new nuggets last year.
  • KFC is even breaking tradition by getting in on the nuggets game.

So what’s with all the talk about nuggs? KFC’s head chef in the U.S., Chris Scott, gets to the heart of it when he says, “so many younger consumers are not interested in eating chicken on the bone, for whatever reason.” That’s right — as always, it’s all about Gen Z and Millennial customers.

Generation Nuggs
So why do younger customers like chicken nuggets so much?

  • They like “easy-to-grab” finger foods to snack on (and have an affinity for the dino nuggets of their childhood).
  • Maeve Webster, president of restaurant consultancy Menu Matters, says nuggets offer a lot of “customization and experimentation.”
    • For example, McDonald’s introduced a sandwich made up of two burgers on a bed of McNuggets called the Crunchy Double.
  • Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, and Nuggs are heating up the chicken market with vegan options.

And the chicken market is taking flight. IBISWorld reports that the fast food chicken market is growing by about 5% annually and will likely hit $40 billion in revenue this year. That’s very spicy.

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