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Popeye's chicken sandwich and Impossible Whopper a 'perfect storm': Restaurant Brands CEO

Brian Sozzi
·Editor-at-Large

A simple fried chicken sandwich from Popeye’s that has taken Twitter by storm and faux meat Whopper has Restaurant Brands (QSR) looking like a high growth tech company, at least for a quarter or two. Now, it falls on Restaurant Brands CEO Jose Cil to keep the good times rolling by ensuring those chicken sandwiches and faux meat Whoppers keep flying out the door.

“I have been in the business a long time, and I don’t think I have seen two products like the chicken sandwich and the Impossible Whopper come that often. For it to happen at the same time was a bit fortuitous, but it’s a testament to the great teams that we have and the great brands we have and the loyal fans we have. I think we hit the perfect storm,” Cil told Yahoo Finance.

Besides captivating the taste buds of the fast-food faithful, Restaurant Brands’ third quarter results whet the appetite of investors...and then some.

The company — which also owns Burger King and Tim Horton’s — posted a stunning 9.7% same-store sales increase at Popeye’s on Monday. Wall Street analysts had expected 4.9% growth. To show how insane that sales gain is in the competitive fast food business, third quarter U.S. same-store sales for Wendy’s (WEN) increased 4.4% and by 4.8% for McDonald’s (MCD). Both sales prints were viewed as very strong by Wall Street.

Burger King’s same-store sales rose 4.8% versus forecasts for 3.6% growth as the chain felt a lift from the successful Impossible Whopper.

Tim Hortons was the lone sales letdown — same-store sales fell 1.4% versus the 0.6% expected.

Operating profits rose 10% at Burger King, 15% at Popeye’s and were relatively unchanged at Tim Hortons. Considering hourly wages are on the rise along with many food ingredients, the profit gains at Burger King and Popeyes shows how a hit product could positively influence the bottom line.

A chicken sandwich is seen at a Popeyes, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, in Kyle, Texas. After Popeyes added a crispy chicken sandwich to their fast-fast menu, the hierarchy of chicken sandwiches in America was rattled, and the supremacy of Chick-fil-A and others was threatened. It’s been a trending topic on social media, fans have weighed in with YouTube analyses and memes, and some have reported long lines just to get a taste of the new sandwich. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
A chicken sandwich is seen at a Popeyes, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, in Kyle, Texas. After Popeyes added a crispy chicken sandwich to their fast-fast menu, the hierarchy of chicken sandwiches in America was rattled, and the supremacy of Chick-fil-A and others was threatened. It’s been a trending topic on social media, fans have weighed in with YouTube analyses and memes, and some have reported long lines just to get a taste of the new sandwich. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Restaurant Brands said Monday the Popeye’s chicken sandwich will return on Nov. 3 after months of being unavailable as the company tried to secure more supplies of brioche buns and chicken breast. If the sandwich’s return is well-received — it should be given the pent-up demand — Popeye’s could eclipse a double-digit same-store sales gain in the fourth quarter.

More supply, more sales...easy formula. Cil said he doesn’t expect there to be a chicken sandwich shortage. As for the Impossible Whopper, Cil said Restaurant Brands will continue to be aggressive on the marketing front.

“I think we are the best kept secret in the quick service restaurant industry, and perhaps in the food industry. We have really amazing talents and amazing chefs,” Cil said of the company’s innovation pipeline. “I like that it is a well kept secret.”

Yahoo Finance’s Heidi Chung contributed to this story.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-anchor of The First Trade at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @BrianSozzi

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