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McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Burger King heat up chicken sandwich wars

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

(CNN) — January was huge for the fried chicken sandwich wars, but February was somehow even bigger.

This month, Wendy’s, Taco BellBurger King and McDonald’s all debuted new spins on the old favorite. Those sandwiches join KFC, Shake Shack and even Boston Market in an ever-growing list of fast food chicken choices.

Cheap, tasty and growing in sales, fried chicken sandwiches are becoming an attractive menu item for many fast food restaurants.

“Chicken has been identified as an opportunity for growth across the industry, with chicken almost [twice] the size of beef globally and growing at a faster rate,” wrote Credit Suisse analyst Lauren Silberman in a recent note. “We expect competition to heat up in 2021.”

They certainly are. Here’s what’s new in the chicken clash.

Burger King

The chain is kicking its current crispy chicken sandwich to curb and replacing it with a new, hand-breaded version. The new item, which comes in original or spicy, is made with a savory signature sauce and served with pickles on a potato bun.

“Chicken is a big business for us,” said Ellie Doty, Burger King’s chief marketing officer. “If the guest is going for a top quality chicken sandwich, they might be going somewhere else right now,” she added. “We’re upping our game.”

Burger King said the sandwich will cost about $4 — $1 less than its current sandwich. It will be available at its 7,000 US restaurants later this year.

McDonald’s

The burger chain’s three new chicken sandwiches finally went on sale this week. They come in three versions, including a Crispy Chicken Sandwich topped with pickles and served on a potato roll, a Spicy Chicken Sandwich that adds a spicy pepper sauce and a Deluxe Chicken Sandwich that comes with lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise.

The chain teased a new selection of sandwiches at last year’s investor day, with Joe Erlinger, president of McDonald’s USA, explaining that chicken is a good bet for the company.

“Globally, the chicken category is almost twice the size of beef,” he said at the time. “It is growing faster and represents a significant opportunity,” he said. “Developing a reputation for great chicken represents one of our highest aspirations. We want customers to choose McDonald’s for chicken.”

Sandwich prices vary depending on city.

Taco Bell

Taco + sandwich = success? That’s what Taco Bell is aiming for with its new Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco.

It’s a creative concoction: The all-white piece of chicken is marinated in jalapeño buttermilk and fried with a crunchy tortilla chip coating, served in a puffy bread that’s shaped as a taco. That’s then topped in a creamy chipotle sauce. There’s also a spicy version that includes an additional topping of jalapeño slices.

Taco Bell is serving the tacos only at participating restaurants in Nashville, Tennessee, and Charlotte, North Carolina, beginning on March 11 for $2.49. A nationwide rollout is planned for later this year.

Wendy’s

Wendy’s launched a grenade into the chicken wars with its newest entrant, a Jalapeño Popper Sandwich.

The $5.99 sandwich is covered in jalapeños including in a flavored cream cheese spread plus six slices of the pepper on top. It also features three slices of bacon, two cheeses (cheddar and pepper jack) and a toasted bun.

“Consumers are looking for flavor, and unfortunately there’s boring and bland options out there from our competition,” Wendy’s Chief Marketing Officer Carl Loredo told CNN Business. “They are hyper-focused on flavor and it’s something they want and need right now.”

The spicy sandwich is the newest iteration of Wendy’s recently relaunched fried chicken sandwich that hit restaurants last fall.

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