Spicy Chicken McNuggets will hit U.S. restaurants on September 16, for a limited time. It's the first new McNugget flavor in the United States since the item was introduced to the U.S. menu in 1983.
For McDonald's, the new item could be a way to capitalize on America's taste for chicken and create some much-needed buzz. Brands that have gone big on chicken have been rewarded with great sales and loyalty. Popeyes' wildly popular spicy chicken sandwich has boosted the chain's sales. System-wide sales at Popeyes restaurants jumped 24% in the three months that ended on June 30 compared to the same period last year. The brand said on its earnings call that the sandwich had been a big contributor.
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Chick-fil-A has been growing steadily for years. And customers have been flocking to KFC. In the United States "we recorded the highest average sales per store in the brand's history during a week in early May," said David Gibbs, CEO of Yum Brands, which owns KFC, during a call with analysts discussing second-quarter financial results. Sales at US KFC restaurants open at least a year jumped 7% in the quarter compared to the same period last year.
McDonald's has plenty of chicken options on its menu, and has tested chicken sandwiches in the past. The new McNuggets have a breaded tempura coating of cayenne and chili peppers. They come with a Mighty Hot Sauce, which includes a blend of crushed red pepper, spicy chilies and garlic. The Mighty Hot Sauce, also available for a limited time, is the company's first new dipping sauce in three years.
Spicy Chicken McNuggets. get ready.— McDonald's (@McDonalds) August 25, 2020
"Our customers have been asking for Spicy McNuggets for some time now," said Linda VanGosen, vice president of menu innovation, in a blog post announcing the new item.
Fast food companies use limited-time items to help build buzz around their brands. Right now, McDonald's could use a boost. McDonald's total sales fell 30% in the second quarter compared to a year ago, the company said last month. Net income plummeted 68%.
And it is struggling during breakfast. The meal has been impacted by changes to people's morning routines, particularly commuting, the company explained during an analyst call discussing the company's second-quarter results. It doesn't help that Wendy's, which positioned its own new breakfast offerings as superior to McDonald's offerings, is benefiting from its breakfast menu.
Still, McDonald's is hopeful about a turnaround. In April, sales at US locations open at least a year were down 19%. But sales have been improving steadily since then. In June, they were down just 2.3%, and they "trended up" in July, according to Chief Financial Officer Kevin Ozan.