October 23, 2023
Over the past 34 years, there’s been a quiet entry into the chicken wars, and you’ve probably overlooked it. But Krispy Krunchy Chicken is revving up to be a solid player in the QSR industry by selling bone-in chicken in convenience stores.
The brand was founded in 1989 by Neal Onebane, a Cajun who starting playing around with a chicken recipe for the convenience stores he owned with his family. At the time, there wasn’t much fresh, hot food found in the stores aside from the roller hot dogs and microwaved burritos.
“Fast forward 34 years later, and we have about 2,800 stores primarily in convenience stores. We’re in some colleges and universities, casinos and now a handful of Walmarts,” Jim Norberg, president of Krispy Krunchy Chicken, said in a phone interview. “But it was really predicated on this mild, Cajun-flavored bone-in chicken, tender and biscuits. That’s our claim to fame and what sets us apart.”
The units are all licensed, not franchised, so there’s no royalties or franchise fees. A “convenience store operator would buy the equipment for our program and then they buy our proprietary products — our chicken, our breading and things like that,” Norberg said. “It’s a store within a store, if you will, and the majority of those in convenience stores.”
In November 2021, private equity group Main Post Partners purchased the company. “They’re ‘not your father’s private equity groups,'” said Norberg. “They are great partners, and they believe in partnerships. They could not have been more supportive with the growing of the team, our strategies and giving us the resources we need to go to the moon, so to speak.”
Though Main Post Partners took over in 2021, CEO Dan Shapiro was the one to help create the brand’s direction over the past 10 years. Main Post and Shapiro worked diligently to bring in a team of people that would keep the culture that been in the company since its inception.
That culture is important to the brand, said Norberg. “Culture is almost everything. … I think what’s amazing about the culture at Krispy Krunchy is our team, our operators, they absolutely believe they are serving the best fried chicken out there. And there’s a culture of winning together, and there’s a culture of doing the right thing. There’s a culture of just being a good human, and serving and supporting our operators.”
Norberg said the brand has taken the culture that Shapiro has built and “etched that into stone.”
“We’re taking this brand that was founder-led and really putting in systems and processes.”
Many of the leadership team come in from other brands, and bring their expertise and experience to Krispy Krunchy Chicken.
On the menu
Fried chicken is the brand’s top seller, and it utilizes several poultry suppliers, including Tyson. The chicken is marinated in proprietary mild Cajun spices at the supplier, where it then goes to Sysco to be delivered to Krispy Krunchy Chicken locations.
The brand uses all-fresh, never frozen chicken. At the store level, it’s double hand-breaded in proprietary breading. Krispy Krunchy Chicken keeps its menu simple with bone-in fried chicken, tenders, honey-butter shrimp and biscuits.
“The biscuits are just unbelievable,” Norberg said. “It’s one of the things people’s mouths water over.”
The chicken and biscuits are made in-house every day.
Alice Crowder, VP of marketing, said the company’s culture has been focused on its operators, which she believes is one of the brand’s strengths. “When you come into contact with us online, or through reviews and merchandising, we’re starting to pull out the things that people really care about and highlight them, like ‘hand-breaded’ which implies the freshness of chicken because you don’t hand-bread something frozen. So those quality cues that are so important to guests are a big part of visual and auditory selling points that we use when we are introducing ourselves or re-introducing ourselves to guests who enjoy the brand.”
Does Krispy Krunchy Chicken have to compete with the barrage of other items in a convenience store — think Funyuns, Twinkies and beef jerky — available to consumers?
Crowder said there isn’t competition, because a guest isn’t choosing between a snack food and fresh, hot chicken. There’s no comparison. Signage on windows is enough to bring in intrigued potential consumers, and the smell of the chicken alone is enough to drive traffic in convenience stores.
Norberg said people are savvier and know the food has gotten better at convenience stores.
“We have very little brand awareness which is the great job ahead for Alice,” he added. “She’s started to bring that brand awareness from the street showing that flying drumstick to the pumps (and) to storefront and inside. And once you’re in, smelling that friend chicken — it’s a better offering.”
Now that the brand is in nearly 3,000 stores out of the 150,000 in the U.S., it had partnered with some big-name convenience store chains like Circle K. There’s the opportunity for those convenience store operators to sell a fresh, hot product with very little competition in-store.
“People may come to a convenience store either to get fuel or beer and lotto tickets and they just happen to stumble upon us,” Norberg said, “and then there’s others that are seeking us out as a destination. More and more of that to come.”
Krispy Krunchy Chicken has to compete with other chicken brands as well, including a few in the convenience store space. Norberg said the brand is double the size of its nearest competitor and added the brand is growing at a rate that is “unheard of.”
“It goes to the quality of our chicken, the profitability as well as the additional sales and traffic for our operators with our program. I’d say we’re competing well and that’s our plan — to continue to be the biggest and the best.”
From a QSR standpoint, Krispy Krunchy Chicken is just starting to scratch the competitive surface.
“I would put our chicken up against Popeyes and KFC any day, and our customers on Tik Tok and Instagram have done just that. And we know it’s a great product, so as we get more into third-party delivery and truly being able to deliver our product to wherever the customer is, we’ll see us impact that in a greater way.”
Crowder said a segmentation study showed convenience store chicken is viewed as a parody of QSR brands, and among its competitors it has a sweet spot — it has the value of the convenience store consumers demand as well as the quality of product that keeps guests returning.
Norberg said he doesn’t worry about the brand growing too big too fast — the model is non-traditional and the leadership team has been busy building the brand’s infrastructure. Without brick-and-mortar stores, the convenience stores are already there and Krispy Krunchy Chicken can slide right into one and be off the ground running.
Said Norberg: “You haven’t seen anything yet.”