15 minutes of "Mayhem": how a tweet led to a shortage in Popeyes


They started a war in 15 minutes.

At 1:43 pm on August 19th Bruno Cardinali, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen Marketing Manager, Received a WhatsApp Message from a Colleague: That morning, one of Popeyes' fast food rivals, Chick-fil-A, tweeted what appeared to be a barely veiled criticism of new fried chicken sandwich that Popeyes had started to offer all over the country a few days earlier.

Mr. Cardinali quickly summoned a group of marketing executives to a small room on the fifth floor of Popeyes headquarters in Miami. A high-speed brainstorming session ensued and the team quickly decided what seemed to be the perfect answer: "… are you all right?"

the tweet appeared on the Popeyes official account at 13:58.

"It's 15 minutes of recovery that triggered the tweet that triggered everything," Cardinali said. "And at that moment we prepared ourselves."

What triggered the tweet is the "chicken sandwich wars", a viral debate on social media that has captivated the Internet for a week and a half. Popeyes, Chick-fil-A and other fast-food brands exchanged their tips on Twitter, arguing over who the sandwich tastes best. As sandwich memes proliferated, customers flocked to Popeyes restaurants across the country, forcing employees to work overtime, place after location, after being sold.

As the sandwich supply dwindled rapidly, Popeyes' top Miami-backed executives were bubbling: a two-word tweet had turned the chicken sandwich roll-out into one of the most successful product launches in history. the society. But the success of the sandwich also created a logistical puzzle.

In one tweet Popeyes announced Tuesday that its chicken sandwich stocks were exhausted: for now, the chain has announced that its stores should stop offering the sandwich, sold for $ 3.99. (Popeyes refused to reveal how many sandwiches he had sold during the last week and a half.)

"We anticipated the demand very aggressively and we thought we would have no problems at all, at least until the end of September," he said. Felipe Athayde, President Popeyes for the US market. "And then two weeks go by and the product is exhausted at the national level."

All last week, Athayde had sent out calls and e-mails about the shortages. But it was only this Friday night that he made his decision. The senior management of the chain had met in a meeting room on the fifth floor. Some officials were on laptops, while others looked at printed spreadsheets showing sales of sandwiches across the country.

"Guys, look," Athayde told the group. "I think we'll have to brake."

In the end, the decision was made by simple mathematics, said Mr. Athayde in an interview this week. Popeyes, with its 2,400 locations, is one of the largest fried chicken chains in the United States. But there was not enough chicken to continue making the sandwiches.

"We made the decision to stop, but technically it was not a decision," said Athayde. "We realized we were stopping. There was no alternative. "

In the coming months, the chain plans to recruit new chicken suppliers to secure larger quantities of the breast meat used in the sandwich, Amy Alarcon, Vice President for Global Food Innovation at Popeyes. (A spokesman for the company will not reveal the name of any of the suppliers.)

On Saturday, Athayde hosted a webcast at Popeyes' headquarters on hundreds of franchises across the United States, in which company executives presented their plans to suspend sales of the chicken sandwich. At the call, they pointed out that the launch of the sandwich had been a historic moment for Popeyes. But eventually, acknowledged the officials, the channel simply missed chicken breast.

Now the plan is to come back "at full speed," said Athayde during the interview.

Popeyes has not set a date for the return of the product, but in some franchises, preparation has already begun. Joe Haberkorn, owner of six Popeyes stores in the Chicago area, has announced plans to install new sandwich preparation stations in its restaurants.

"We order additional toasters," said Haberkorn. "We will move up a gear when they come back."

But there are already signs that consumers are turning to other viral chicken products. In about five o'clock on Tuesday, one of Popeyes' rivals, Kentucky Fried Chicken, sold all test the supply of a new plant-based fried chicken at a branch in Atlanta.

For Popeyes employees, the suspension of chicken sandwich sales marked the end of a chaotic week of shifts in overtime and sometimes hostile interactions with impatient customers.

Brian Smith, a franchise owner who manages 11 Popeyes sites in the Midwest, he said last week he sold 1,200 sandwiches a day at his restaurant in Appleton, Wisconsin. It was a relief that his overwhelmed employees did not resign on the spot, he said.

"It was so stressful," said Mr. Smith. "I'm surprised the team members have stayed. It was absolutely right chaos. "

In a Popeyes in Affon, Missouri, on the outskirts of St. Louis, store managers have made sure that several other staff members are working some Eric Janis, 19, cook at the restaurant. Last week, Janis said, impatient customers queued for the chicken sandwiches to shout at the store's employees to hurry up.

"Every day they cried out how long it took," he said. "There was constantly complaining."

The wait will now be much longer. On Wednesday, at lunchtime, the Popeyes on Brooklyn Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant was quiet. A message written in black Sharpie on a cardboard sign on the menu board indicated why the lines had disappeared.

"Sorry for the inconvenience," he says. "We are short of sandwiches."

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