Chicken by dickens!

Nov. 22, 2019

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … for Popeyes Chicken’s supply chain operations.

By now you know the Louisiana Cajun-style chicken chain’s drama with fame, fortune and frenzy as the traditional media – namely, newspapers and business magazines – sliced and diced what could have been a McRib moment for retail outlets, but thanks to social media (yeah, this means YOU, Twitter), it went the way of the McDLT.

Note to chicken sandwich aficionados: Fret not, you still have Chick fil-A and Fry the Coop.

Clucking aside, Popeyes introduced a new chicken sandwich back in August that reportedly was scheduled for a limited run through September. Unfortunately, social media caught wind of the newest menu item and went kablooey.

For the record, yes, Popeyes’ chicken sandwich was/is that good.

What happened? Demand spiked and soared. Popeyes ran out of product. Fast. As in roughly after two weeks.

The astonishingly popular menu item disappeared in September and October only to resurface on Sunday, November 3, in celebration of National Sandwich Day. Popeyes took to social media to snark on rival Chick fil-A, which had promoted National Sandwich Day before someone realized the “holiday” was on Sunday when Chick fil-A traditionally is closed. With egg on its face, Chick fil-A issued a mea culpa as Popeyes did the chicken dance. Of course, as Popeyes debuted its chicken sandwich, Chick fil-A released its new mac & cheese dish, which may not have caused a social media hiccup or insatiable market demand, but at least they never ran out.

Like a contagion, word spread that Popeyes would re-offer the chicken sandwich, and on that first day Popeyes locations experienced long customer lines and product wait times not seen since the grand opening of Krispy Kreme locations in the Chicagoland area some 15 years ago. (Many have since closed down in the area.)

Why? Supply chain complications that would make HPN readers blush if it happened to them but then smirk with the knowledge that it hasn’t.

First, the product was custom-made, including the breading, coating, seasonings and the size and thickness of the cut of the chicken meat. Understandably, Popeyes did not anticipate the frenzied demand on the horizon. Healthcare supply chain executives and professionals alike know how difficult demand forecasting is – even with new-fangled buzzwords like data analytics, artificial intelligence, blockchain and the cornucopia you hear at conferences, trade shows and in trade publications like this one.

Further, Popeyes didn’t work with their suppliers to stockpile enough chicken in case demand exploded, nor did the chain and its franchises expand staff necessary to cook and prepare the product.

Now imagine a healthcare supply chain professional saddled with this situation at his or her hospital.  The intravenous solution shortage a few years back comes close; the glove shortage in the 1990s alongside the parallel promotion of universal (now standard) precautions against infection transmission comes closer.

What’s different? Unlike healthcare outlets where services must be provided, Popeyes didn’t scramble around for suppliers that ultimately will jack up the price for product to make it available. Popeyes merely pulled the sandwich from the menu. Hospitals can’t shrug, take such an “Oh, well” approach and drop basic service lines. Thankfully, people can live without the “luxury” of a custom chicken sandwich for a short time. Those same people can’t live without the necessity for basic healthcare.

Let’s make it a little more of an apples-to-oranges comparison in terms of demand trending. What might be an equivalent scenario? Think contagion. Imagine a contagious virus infects a community such that long lines clog the local healthcare facilities. The demand surge causes a run on the antibiotic needed to heal people.

Imagine healthcare supply chain pros shrugging, uttering “oops,” and the facilities shutting their doors. When it comes to crisis- and disaster-planning, healthcare supply chain pros, by and large, maintain flexible playbooks to keep product lines accessible and fluid to meet myriad demand scenarios.

We’ve heard over the years a lot about supply chain pros coming to healthcare from other industries. Maybe Popeyes could use a dose of healthcare supply chain expertise right now. Who will help? C’mon, don’t be chicken.

About the Author

Rick Dana Barlow | Senior Editor

Rick Dana Barlow is Senior Editor for Healthcare Purchasing News, an Endeavor Business Media publication. He can be reached at [email protected].

Photo 44133635 © Sithiporn Thanapaisankit |
Illustration 249615353 © Thanee Hengpattanapong |
Tracy Arendt / Generated by AI / Adobe Firefly