Chick-fil-A is "fired up" over its first new sandwich introduction since 1989. The new Spicy Chicken Sandwich will launch nationwide June 7, and the chain is ready for a large consumer response. Promotion for the new offering includes a national media buy and an online reservation site to allow consumers to try a free sandwich before the official launch.
Building on the heritage of the chain's namesake sandwich, the new Chick-fil-A Spicy Chicken Sandwich is hand-breaded, seasoned with a fiery blend of several peppers, pressure-cooked in 100 percent refined peanut oil and served on a toasted buttered bun with dill pickle chips. The Spicy Chicken Sandwich starts at $2.99 and also is offered in a "deluxe" version that includes lettuce, tomato and Pepper Jack cheese for $3.59.
Chick-fil-A vice president of brand strategy and design William F. "Woody" Faulk said the new sandwich delivers on more than just heat.
"Our Spicy Chicken Sandwich offers a unique, well-balanced and 'cravable' spicy flavor that is perfect for our growing customer constituency that enjoys spicy food," Faulk said in a news release. "Most spicy chicken sandwiches available today just heat up your mouth and do not boast a distinctive flavor."
Creating a spicy offering that suits a wide based of consumers has its challenges, and Chick-fil-A has addressed those by offering a cooling sauce as well as a spicy cheese to allow guests to temper or enhance the spicy flavor of the sandwich.
"One of the delicate aspects of developing this recipe was finding the right spice level to suit the majority of our customers," he said. "While we believe we found the happy medium as far as the 'kick level' is concerned, there are ways to cool down or even heat up the sandwich."
Guests who want to cool down the heat level can add ranch dressing or lettuce and tomato, while those who want more heat can add Pepper Jack cheese or Buffalo sauce.
Online reservations for free sample
The Spicy Chicken Sandwich will be officially added to the Chick-fil-A menu on June 7, but the chain is giving customers nationwide a chance to taste the sandwich for free during a special Premiere Week event prior to the rollout. Chick-fil-A e-club members on Friday received an invitation to visit a special reservation microsite www.getspicychicken.com to participate.
Starting today, consumers nationwide can visit the site and reserve a time to taste the sandwich at a local Chick-fil-A restaurant between May 31 and June 5. Each customer who registers and attends Premiere Week will receive a complimentary Spicy Chicken Sandwich. Offers are limited and are already filling up quickly.
Guests who visit the site can chose between several time frames each day throughout the week of May 31. After making their reservation, guests receive an e-mail directing them to download a personalized invitation to the time and day selected. The invitation states that an ID may be required to redeem the offer.
Also after making their reservation, guests can announce their reservation on Facebook or Twitter or recommend the reservation site to a friend.
"We are especially excited about the reservation-based sampling of our new sandwich with our loyal customers," Faulk said. "We want to invite our customers to taste the flavor and quality of this spicy sandwich, but we don't want a cattle-call setting where we won't be able to extend 'second mile' service to our customers. This reservation system provides a more personalized way to introduce our exciting menu addition."
Expecting a hit
Even though the company is offering a sneak peek to consumers before the launch, Chick-fil-A has taken its time in launching the Spicy Chicken Sandwich, which has been in some form of test for years. The chain market-tested the sandwich in Jacksonville, Fla., and Baltimore, Md., and then expanded the test to include its restaurants in California last spring. Customers gave the sandwich a 4.4 out of 5 rating on overall taste.
The Spicy Chicken Sandwich continues to account for at least 6 percent of overall sales at the test restaurants more than a year later. This figure is similar to the percentage of sales garnered by Chick-fil-A Kid's Meals. At that level, the company believes it has a winning product.
"Chick-fil-A has the utmost confidence at this time in our move to add this totally new Spicy Chicken Sandwich, and we believe the product will help sustain the positive sales momentum we have sustained during the unstable economy," said Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A's senior vice president of marketing.
Coming off a record-breaking $3.2 billion sales year in 2009, the chain already is enjoying a positive start to 2010 with a 3.6 percent same-store sales gain and a 9.3 percent overall sales increase through April.
Robinson said the performance of the new sandwich during test indicates the Spicy Chicken Sandwich will help attract new customers while also encouraging more frequent visits from regular customers.
"We have no doubt that our Spicy Chicken Sandwich will become an industry leader before too long and a new favorite among our customers," said Robinson.
Considering the capital investment and marketing expenses required to introduce a totally new sandwich, the Spicy Chicken Sandwich rollout will be Chick-fil-A's largest product introduction in 20 years. The rollout requires a number of kitchen equipment additions, including the installation of new pressure cookers and ventilation systems at most restaurants in order to prevent the spicy recipe from crossing over to other menu items.
Chick-fil-A is also launching one of its most aggressive marketing campaigns in chain history to support the sandwich rollout. In addition to the online, reservation-based Spicy Premiere Week sampling effort, Chick-fil-A is making rare television and radio ad buys in key markets across the country and using online marketing campaigns to promote the sandwich.
"We are extremely fortunate to be in a position to make these multi-million dollar investments during tough economic times," said Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A's senior vice president of marketing. "Much of our competition is hesitant to make new product investments these days and instead have chosen to focus on dollar menus and product discounts to drive traffic. However, Chick-fil-A is focused on adding value to the restaurant experience through well-developed product introductions and the continued value placed on our second mile service.
"We firmly believe our business will continue to grow as long as we take deliberate measures to ensure the quality of our products and our customer service standards remain at the highest level."
The Chick-fil-A Spicy Chicken Sandwich will complement the other spicy entrees currently offered by the chain, including the Spicy Chicken Cool Wrap and Southwest Chargrilled Salad. Based on the general popularity of the spicy category, Chick-fil-A also plans to expand its line of spicy offerings by adding a Spicy Chicken Biscuit to its line of "made-from-scratch," hand-rolled biscuit-based breakfast menu in January 2011.