Burger King encountered an unexpected setback on its side of the fast-food chicken sandwich war. The chain was already starting behind, as its biggest rival, McDonald's, launched its chicken sandwiches in February. The pickle was an unlikely saboteur for the West Michigan test market, which had to delay its launch by a few weeks.
Burger King planned to start testing the new chicken sandwich in there in late March, but there was a shortage of pickle jars there. "We have pickles for Whoppers but these are very special bigger crunchier zesty pickles," Jim MacDonald, vice president of operations for Burger King Grand Rapids, told WOOD TV8 on March 25. The pickles themselves were not the cause, it was just the jars they should be packaged in, MacDonald explained.
"The problem was we couldn’t get the pickles because they couldn’t get the jars during the pandemic," he said. "They couldn’t make the jars to put the pickles in to get them to us so they couldn’t make enough to get them where we needed them." The popularity of the chicken sandwich in other test markets shows that Burger King does not have access to the number of jars it needs to safely transport the pickles to each location.
MacDonald said offering the new chicken sandwich is a major investment because they are starting each order with a raw chicken product. The chicken is never frozen and will be hand-breaded when the customer orders it. He said they spent $80,000 to install specific stations in the 26 restaurants he oversees just for the sandwich. "This is a raw chicken product which we don’t have in our restaurants now and this requires a lot of training and food safety training and Burger King’s been really good about that, they’ve helped us out a lot. We do ‘chicken chats’ every Wednesday," MacDonald said. "We learn best practices from around the area."
MacDonald did not expect the delay to last too long. He told MLive.com the sandwiches would start rolling out in six of the 26 restaurants on April 14, then another six the next day. The district manager has to be at each restaurant for the entire day to make sure there are no quality concerns, which is why all 26 can't offer the sandwich on the same day to start. "When it’s right, they move on to the next store," MacDonald explained. “This is one of the bigger roll-outs we have ever done. Usually, it’s a new sandwich and a new sauce, but this is definitely more intense.”
Back in February, Burger King announced its new chicken sandwich, vowing to not "half-a—" it. MacDonald believes the company succeeded, even saying the sandwich is better than the one you can get at Popeyes. Notably, Burger King and Popeyes, the brand that started the chicken sandwich craze in 2019, are both owned by Restaurant Brands International. MacDonald predicted that the sandwich will be available in all of Michigan in May.