Let me start by saying I’m a longtime fan of Chick-fil-A. I worked at a Dwarf House during college and learned a great deal of the company’s history during that time. I have eaten at four different Dwarf House locations, including the original in Hapeville, as well as Truett’s Cafe in McDounah and the one and only Truett’s Luau in Fayetteville. I brought my whole family to Chick-fil-A appreciation day back in 2012 and encouraged all my friends to do the same.
Truett’s Luau, July 2016
I would estimate that 90% of my Chick-fil-A visits over the past two years have been during breakfast hours. And almost exclusively my breakfast item of choice has been the spicy chicken biscuit with a small coffee. I know from earlier this year, when the super food side took the place of coleslaw, that Chick-fil-A doesn’t add a new menu item without doing away with an old one. I found out just yesterday, the hard way when I placed my order, that the new Egg White Grill replaced the spicy chicken biscuit. It is still available in 55 markets across the US but not in the Southeast, where I happen to live and the dozen or so Chick-fil-A locations I frequent are located.
The company published an article/ blog post that explains the Egg White Grill tested well in several larger markets, including Manhattan. Manhattan? That’s a long way from Hapeville. David Farmer is Chick-fil-A’s vice president of menu strategy and development. He and chef Ford Fry brought us the Superfood Side earlier this year, replacing many customer’s long-time favorite coleslaw with a “healthier, lower calorie” side dish made up of kale and broccolini.
I think Dan Cathy and company need to get rid of David Farmer as fast as humanly possible. Just a couple of years ago Chick-fil-A overtook KFC in the number one chicken spot based on annual revenue. Think about that; an Atlanta based restaurant that’s only open six days a week now outsells Kentucky Fried Chicken. And that happened before Farmer started adding low cal side dishes and breakfast items that tested well in Manhattan.
Let me suggest a menu strategy: Leave it alone. If David Farmer is interested in grilled chicken and kale dishes, let him moved to New York and open a restaurant. Chick-fil-A has a loyal and expanding customer base built on what they always done well, deep frying chicken and waffle fries. The pre-Farmer menu tested well in the Deep South for over 50 years. I don’t know if Dan Cathy is asleep at the wheel or quietly waited for his father to pass away so he could take the company in new directions, but one thing is certain: this would never happen if Truett were still alive.
I don’t hate Chick-fil-A and I can’t honestly say that I will never eat there again. But consider: A few years ago, I ate at Wendy’s about once a week. On a regular basis I would order a spicy chicken sandwich and replace the fries with Caesar side salad. Then they ruined the Caesar side salad. They didn’t get rid of it, they just took a delicious item on their menu and made it awful in every possible way. I wrote letters to corporate; blogged about it; asked friends to complain. They told me they were sorry but nothing changed. I never stopped going to Wendy’s but now I average once or twice a year when I take my family.
Consumer sovereignty works because companies desire to make and sell the products customers want to buy. Some corporations spend a lot of time and money trying to guess what consumers want next. Sometimes they guess right, and sometimes they build the Ford Edsel or Nehru jackets. In this case, they took away something the fan based loved and replaced it with something their ad guys keep trying to convince us we want. Egg White Grill is the Microsoft Vista of the food industry.
Chick-fil-A, you have built a successful business that appeals to the masses. If you want to turn that into a niche market of overpriced items that appeal to hipsters and millennials (i.e. Starbucks) there may not be anything I can do to stop you. But I’m asking nicely, please, listen to the voices of so many that miss what you were just one year ago. My FB posts about the spicy biscuit keep getting comments about coleslaw, bbq sauce and something about ranch sauce that I don’t quite understand. What are you doing? Why are you catering to new markets in the New England states and turning your back on generations of customers down South? Yesterday I was angry. Today I’m just sad. I loved you Chick-fil-A. I guess I’m going to miss you.
Clark J. Bunch