Pizza and Chicken Sandwiches Remain the Stars of Fast Food in the Pandemic

Papa John's and Popeyes report double-digit increases in comparable sales

Popeyes' fried chicken sandwich, launched last year, continues to drive same-store sales at the chain. - Credit by Popeyes
Headshot of Richard Collings

Key insight:

Pizza and Popeyes’ famous chicken sandwich continue to be pandemic proof.

Papa John’s and Restaurant Brands International, the parent of Burger King, Tim Hortons and Popeyes, reported results Thursday for the second quarter ending June 28. Other large U.S.-based fast food operators have also revealed quarterly results: Wendy’s earlier this week, and McDonald’s, Yum! Brands, Starbucks and Dunkin’ Brands last week.

For Papa John’s, comparable sales in North America were up nearly 28%; globally, sales were up about 19%. The chain also said that revenue for the quarter increased about 15% to $461 million year-over-year, while net income was up a whopping 160% to nearly $21 million from about $8 million year-over-year.

The results are even more impressive when you consider that Papa John’s was reporting negative comparable sales in the low to mid-single digits for the same period a year prior.

It seems to be a good time to be in the pizza business: Competitor Domino’s, which reported earnings about two weeks ago, said same-store sales for the quarter were up 16.1% in the U.S. and 1.3% internationally.

Meanwhile, Restaurant Brands’ Popeyes continued to report positive numbers of its own, with its chicken sandwich boosting business as comparable sales at the Louisiana-style chicken chain increased 28.5% in the U.S. and 24.8% worldwide.

Popeyes’ global system sales, which includes both company-owned and franchised locations, jumped 24% to $1.25 billion in the second quarter from just over $1 billion for the same period a year prior. Revenue at the chicken chain, meanwhile, was up nearly 21% to $134 million.

Burger King, however, continued to see a decline both in the U.S., where comparable sales decreased 9.9%, and globally, with same-store sales down 13.4%. System sales at the burger chain were down more than 25% worldwide to about $4.1 billion from about $5.7 billion for the year prior.

Revenue at Burger King for the second quarter was $347 million, a decline of more than 22% from $447 million year-over-year.

Tim Hortons fared the worst of Restaurant Brands’ businesses, with comparable sales down more than 29% globally and nearly 30% in Canada. System sales decreased worldwide 33.4% to about $1.1 billion from close to $1.7 billion for the year-prior period.

The Canadian coffee chain’s performance underscores that coffee continues to be the most challenged segment within the fast-food space during the pandemic, with competitor Starbucks also reporting poor numbers.

Overall, Restaurant Brands said total revenue for the second quarter ended June 30 was about $1 billion compared to $1.4 billion for the same period a year prior, a decline of about 25%, while revenue was $164 million, a decrease of about 36%.

Foot traffic also continues to improve

According to analytics firm Placer.ai, foot traffic is also picking back up at fast food chains.

In a broader look at the QSR sector, the firm analyzed the top eight brands, noting a year-over-year decrease in traffic in June of 27.1% for the group, an improvement from a decline of 37.3% in May and a drop of 54.4% in April during the height of the pandemic.

Wendy’s was the most impressive of the group, according to Placer.ai, with June traffic only 3.3% below the same period a year prior.

After experiencing a 60% year-over-year drop in foot traffic in April, McDonald’s is also improving, according to the firm, with May visits down 45.9% and June visits down 39.1% year-over-year.

Yum! Brands’ KFC, however, was perhaps the weakest performer in terms of foot traffic, which decreased 32% in May, but then declined further in June with a 34.6% drop compared to the same period a year prior.

Some of the largest chains don’t report results

It’s worth pointing out there a number of fast-food chains that don’t report results because they are privately held. Private equity firm Roark Capital owns a huge swath of the sector including Inspire Brands, the parent of Sonic, Arby’s, Jimmy John’s and Buffalo Wild Wings, with some $14.6 billion in systemwide sales.

The firm also owns CKE Restaurants, parent of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., as well as Focus Brands, the parent of Auntie Anne’s, Carvel, Cinnabon, Moe’s Southwest Grill and deli chain Schlotzsky’s.

Panera, on the other hand, is controlled by JAB Holding Company, the investment arm of the Reimann family, while Subway is majority owned by founder Fred DeLuca’s widow, Elisabeth DeLuca, and co-founder Peter Buck. Chick-fil-A is owned by the Cathy family, and while the chain does not report quarterly results, it does provide an annual report.


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@RichCollings richard.collings@adweek.com Richard Collings is a retail reporter at Adweek.