Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen conquered the chicken sandwich wars as Restaurant Brands International (QSR 1.43%) reported sales for the fried chicken chain surged 42% in the fourth quarter after the sandwich was reintroduced.

The restaurant operator said the chicken sandwich "has proven to be a game changer for the brand in every way," as comparable store sales spiked over 34% for the period. The success of the menu item is likely to overshadow the results from Restaurant Brands' Burger King chain, which also delivered its strongest period of growth in over two decades.

Woman eating fried chicken sandwich

Image source: Getty Images.

Ruffling feathers in the quick-serve space

Popeyes reinvigorated the chicken sandwich category. While Chick-fil-A had long been the province of the premiere chicken sandwich, the industry was upended by Popeyes spicy chicken offering. It sold out within weeks when it was first introduced, and lines formed around the block in some locations when it was brought back in November.

It set off a scramble among competitors like Wendy's to tout their own sandwich, and had McDonald's franchisees clamoring for the burger chain to finally introduce its own "world class" chicken sandwich.

Sales at Popeyes rocketed to $1.3 billion from $934 million a year ago in the fourth quarter, and full year sales were 18.5% higher at $4.4 billion. The meteoric rise, however, is likely to create something of a letdown when the restaurant chain reports first quarter 2020 results, and it will be a difficult hurdle to get over a year from now as well.