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Why people are obsessed with chicken sandwiches: Wendy's CEO

The chicken sandwich wars are in full swing across the country. And that definitely doesn't come as a shock to Wendy's CEO Todd Penegor. 

"It's easy, quick to make. You can serve it fresh and hot and you can do some unique builds along the way," Penegor told Yahoo Finance Presents on why the fast-food industry is in love with selling new chicken sandwiches going on more than a year. 

To be sure, the resounding success Popeye's had with its fried chicken sandwich in late 2019 and in 2020 sent its rivals back into their test kitchens to whip up competing offerings. So did sales of the chicken sandwich category more broadly.

Online spending on chicken sandwiches across all restaurants combined grew 420% between January 2019 and December 2020, according to new research from Edison Trends. 

Those efforts from Popeye's competitors are beginning to take center stage. 

Restaurant Brands-owned Burger King (which also owns Popeyes) just dropped a revamped classic chicken sandwich, which it says is its juiciest ever. In mid-February, McDonald's released three new chicken sandwiches. Chick-fil-A is currently marketing a spicy grilled chicken sandwich. 

As for Wendy's, it's now in the market with a fried chicken sandwich featuring jalapeño cream cheese, shredded pepper jack cheese, applewood smoked bacon, cheddar cheese sauce, and jalapeños.

In listening to Penegor, it doesn't sound as if Wendy's will be slowing down its focus on chicken sandwiches anytime soon. Concocting new fried chicken wonders just looks to be good business.

"If you look at where the protein markets have been over the last couple of years the chicken protein has been very predictable on a cost pattern. I know it's been creeping up a little bit more recently. It's a great eat. It's got a healthier perception to it from a consumer perspective," Penegor said. "So I do think that there are a lot of folks gravitating to it. And with all the news that's been created, it does drive a lot of trial. And it gets folks to really think about, maybe I need to have a few more chicken sandwiches in my routine. So it's been good for the industry." 

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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