KFC is taking direct aim at McDonald's and Burger King with its latest sandwich.
The chicken chain is rolling out the Zinger Sandwich at all locations on April 24 as a limited-time offering for 14 weeks. The spicy sandwich is made with chicken breast fillet, and served with mayo and lettuce on a toasted bun.
"The burger boys sell over 2 billion of these fried chicken sandwiches a year," Kevin Hochman, KFC's president, said of the company's competitors in an interview with Business Insider on Monday. "The one thing they all have in common is they're all made in a central factory, they're frozen, and then they're refried at stores."
KFC, on the other hand, fries its chicken in store — something that Hochman argues makes a better sandwich.
"You can come to KFC and get a hand-breaded Zinger and a $5 fill up — that is just unbelievable value and a vastly superior sandwich," Hochman said. "Compared to a factory breaded sandwich, it will always be crunchier, more flavorful, more juicy."
The Zinger presents a huge opportunity for KFC. Fried chicken is hot in fast food right now, with chains from Burger King to Taco Bell eager to get a piece of the action. And, the fried-chicken sandwich is the dominant menu item, making up 40% of fast-food fried chicken sales. Chicken on the bone, KFC's specialty, accounts for just 18%.
According to Hochman, KFC spent $80 million improving speed of service and revamping its back of house organization to effectively sell the spicy chicken sandwich.
KFC will reveal a new colonel to represent the Zinger on Friday, and Hochman says that the chain is planning a marketing stunt to promote the sandwich "unlike anything anyone has ever seen in the industry."
However, the ultimate test for KFC will be if the sandwich can beat options like McDonald's Hot 'n Spicy McChicken and Wendy's Spicy Chicken sandwich when it comes to taste.
A Business Insider taste test revealed that the Zinger can definitely compete with fast-food rivals.
The chicken is juicier than what we've tried from the "burger boys," and the chicken's crunchy texture contrasts nicely with the sandwich's soft bun. The spice levels are well-calibrated — flavorful and slowly building, instead of scorching. The one knock on the sandwich is that the flavors could stand to have a bit more of a zing. Adding the acidity of a pickle, for example, would completely elevate the sandwich.
If customers develop a taste for the Zinger, it could present an enormous opportunity for KFC to revamp itself as a major player in the fried chicken sandwich game. Hochman says he'd "obviously" love if the sandwich stayed on the menu, and that KFC has other chicken, like Nashville Hot and Georgia Gold, that would make amazing sandwiches as well.
"We're going all out to establish ourselves as a sandwich player," Hochman said. "It's easier said than done. We're late to the party — that's why we're throwing in the kitchen sink."