We measured KFC foot traffic compared to its biggest competitor, Popeyes. Which brand is winning market share in which states across the U.S.?
It’s Q1 2023 and the United States Chicken Wars are raging.
From its home base in Kentucky and up, the contiguous U.S. is largely KFC’s map, though a solid 15 states total fall into Popeyes win column, including the prized markets of New York, Texas and Illinois. That said, the total foot traffic between the brands nationally is remarkably close with ~10% difference in average weekly visitation.
Look a little closer at big city markets throughout the U.S. and the bones of the battle are truly laid bare. Urban centers across the map are a back and forth toss-up; that’s true no matter who the local market leader may be. The chicken war is truly on, friends. Who’s going to win?
To find out, we looked at historical foot traffic for Popeyes and KFC from Q1 of 2021 and 2022, with an eye towards gleaning competitive intelligence insights for Q1 2023. Here’s some of what we found.
If historical trends hold, here’s what we can expect to see in Q1 of 2023. Overall foot traffic for both brands will rise at the end of February and peak in the last week of the quarter. Still, total traffic for each will be down slightly in 2023 vs 2022 (this is if Covid lag and recession woes are to be believed).
KFC traffic dipped as much as ~19% at the end of Q1 2022 vs 2021; Popeyes fell as much as ~15% at the same time. Both brands show a tendency towards inclination heading into the start of Q2. This same foot traffic pattern (a late Q1 dip recovering going into Q2) is commonly observed from the foot traffic of other fast food chains, coffee retailers, etc.
What is uncommon about the KFC vs Popeyes analysis we completed, is just how fierce and frequent the competition is across major state and urban markets. Forget the total states count and zero in on the margins of victory in key regions and we quickly see the competition between KFC and Popeyes for what it really is.
The big states - California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois - are roughly split. KFC is better by 8% total in CA and 8.5% in FL, including a win in Miami-Dade County by a factor of about 2:1, but the huge Los Angeles market is a 50/50 toss-up. Popeyes wins by 30% in TX, but that drops down to 18% in IL, and 11% in NY, largely by dominating the NYC market by a factor of ~7:1. That compares to Chicago where the margin of victory for Popeyes is more like 7:3.
There are several other urban marketplaces where the competition for foot traffic is remarkably close. Birmingham AL, Indianapolis IN, Kansas City KS, the Miami suburbs, and much of southern California are all near dead heats, representing millions of total visits.
Popeyes records road victories on KFC’s home turf in the Kentucky counties of Boone, Calloway, Daviess, Graves and Hopkins. KFC exacts revenge on Popeyes in the Louisiana counties of Concordia Parish, bordering Mississippi, and Webster Parish, bordering Arkansas -- both states that Popeye wins about 3:2.
Popeyes loses regional steam in the Great Lakes area, the general rule being that the farther away a market is from the Illinois border, the more likely it is to skew KFC’s way. Popeyes can claim the Arizona state title, but the truth is, other than winning in Phoenix 2:1, Popeyes gets beat by KFC nearly everywhere else in the state.
The competition between KFC and Popeyes is much tighter than a quick look at the national map reveals. Though still the underdog in terms of total national foot traffic, Popeyes is strong in the south where state populations are growing, meaning that gap may continue to organically close.
Regionally, it makes sense for Popeyes to continue to evolve their presence in the massive Florida market by pushing further into mid-sized cities in the sunshine state. Obvious candidates include Jacksonville, where Popeyes already leads ~3:2, Orlando, and Volusia County, as well as the Miami suburbs to the east of the state.
For KFC, the bigger war has to be about defending its slim lead in California by creating a meaningful margin of victory in Los Angeles, and by reclaiming the huge New York State market, which KFC has lost in the last few years to Popeyes aggressive expansion.