Market Share: Airheads Enters The 'Fried Chicken Wars'

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In the U.S., fast-food chains add limited-edition food items to their menus fairly often. Sometimes used as a way to test out whether an item should become a permanent member of the menu, it also is used to call attention to a new effort or campaign, to create an experiential element to further draw patrons, to forge partnerships with local businesses, and/or as a way to drum up excitement among new and returning customers. And for fast-food brands specifically, at least some of these limited-edition items are likely to involve beloved, fried chicken sandwiches—a food item that’s proven so competitive in the U.S. that it’s started a marketing feud among competitors informally dubbed the “fried chicken sandwich wars” by CNN.

Curiously, in recognition of National Fried Chicken Day on July 6, a non-fast-food competitor entered the fried chicken sandwich wars. Airheads, a producer of taffy candy based in Erlanger, Kentucky, announced its entrance with a limited-edition fried chicken sandwich featuring a bun made of 100-percent Airheads Xtremes candy. Certainly an aesthetically pleasing and likely very flavor-packed sandwich, the Airheads Candy Chicken Sandy sandwich wasn’t available on a large scale and it wasn’t available for long; the sandwich was offered for three hours to patrons dining at Frances’ Deli & Brunchery in Chicago; a local landmark that opened in the late 1930s. In-between the sweet and sour, rainbow-striped taffy bun, the sandwich included fried chicken, coleslaw, spicy mayo and pickles.

When asked about the candy company’s decision to embark into the fried chicken sandwich world, Craig Cuchra, vice president of marketing for Perfetti Van Melle North America, the manufacturer of Airheads, said in a news release, “Before the moon landing, there was no moon landing. It was the first time anybody ever landed on it. So there’s some precedent of people not ever doing something before and then suddenly doing the thing they never did.” The very “Instagrammable” sandwich was announced on Instagram with a video and accompanying caption that read, “Ever seen a chicken sandwich with a candy bun before? Now you have. #letsplaychickenwar.”

It’s unclear at this writing in mid-July whether the Airheads sandwich was successful as a sales-boosting strategy, but it certainly proved fruitful as way to surprise and delight customers and inspire fun, social media-worthy moments. Further, limited-edition marketing is a known strategy that businesses, including food companies, use to provide consumers with a seasonal or temporary product, so as to heighten the sense of urgency associated with the product to make it appear more “exclusive” than it is, writes Bloomberg. It was a big moment for Airheads, which has been in business since 1985 and has never before offered a non-candy item, as it demonstrated an ability to adapt by offering its fans an experiential element. The company also recently invested in its own food truck, although it has not yet released where the food truck will be located.


Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.

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