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Chick-fil-A eyes new products, markets

Chick-fil-A Inc. expects to heat up its menu and unit growth this year by expanding its spicy menu offerings and moving into new markets, officials at the 1,540-unit chain said Tuesday.

After the successful launches of Chick-fil-A’s spicy chicken sandwich last year and the spicy chicken breakfast biscuit in January, the Atlanta-based chain is testing more assertive-flavor products, including a spicy chicken nugget, and sweet potato fries.

Chick-fil-A, a well known cult favorite among consumers, sold more than 10 million of the spicy chicken sandwiches in the first two months of its debut last June. It is the chain’s first new sandwich since the char-grilled chicken sandwich was introduced in 1989.

During an event Tuesday in Dallas to introduce the chain’s new limited-time offer banana pudding milkshake — which joined the chain’s four regular flavors — local and corporate Chick-fil-A officials discussed growth and menu innovations in the pipeline.

VIDEO: The importance of new menu items at Chick-fil-A
SLIDE SHOW: An event in Dallas introduced Chick-fil-A's new limited-time offer milkshake

The company plans to add 90 locations this year, the largest annual growth in Chick-fil-A’s history, said Mark Baldwin, senior public relations and publicity consultant. In 2010, Chick-fil-A increased units by about 5 percent from 2009, opening 80 new restaurants, including 66 stand-alone restaurants, two mall/in-line locations and 12 licensed outlets.

The planned 90 units this year, Baldwin said, include 75 stand-alone restaurants and three or four strip center or mall locations. “The third component of that number is license locations, college campuses, airports, business parks, areas with nontraditional restaurant locations,” he said.

New markets, Baldwin added, will include the San Francisco Bay area and expansions in Boise, Idaho, and Chicago, both of which Chick-fil-A entered last year.

The first freestanding Chick-fil-A will open midyear in Boise, Baldwin said. “We opened a license location at Boise State last year,” he said.

The company also made its first entry last year into the Chicago market, with openings in the suburbs of Aurora, Orland Park and Wheaton. “That got us into the Chicago-land area,” Baldwin said. “Now this year we’re going to open in the thick of things near the Water Tower.” That unit will open in summer.

Chick-fil-A last month said it finished strong in 2010, reporting systemwide sales of $3.58 billion, an 11.4-percent increase over the chain’s 2009 sales performance. Same-store sales increased 5.9 percent, it said.

Among other initiatives, Chick-fil-A:

• Introduced on Tuesday a limited-time banana pudding milkshake that contains bits of vanilla wafer.
• Planned a free “FryDay” giveaway of medium waffle fries March 4 to mark the complete rollout of the chain’s new “dip-and-squeeze” ketchup containers.
• Said it was investing in renovations at more than 200 of its existing locations.
• Planned a tribute to honor the 90th birthday of founder S. Truett Cathy March 14.

Chick-fil-A has restaurants in 39 states and Washington D.C.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected].

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