Hamburgers have been and are the chosen sandwich ordered at restaurants and other foodservice outlets, but an increasing number of consumers are becoming enamored with breaded chicken sandwiches, according to a recent study conducted by Chicago-based The NPD Group.

In fact, servings of breaded chicken sandwiches have grown an average of 3% over the last four years, and in the year ending July 2014, 2.4 billion breaded chicken sandwiches were ordered at U.S. restaurants and commercial foodservice outlets. As far as breading types, units of whole grain breaded chicken shipped from foodservice distributors to restaurants and other outlets increased by triple digits, the study says.

Mid-scale/family dining restaurant customers showed their affection for breaded chicken sandwiches by ordering 4% more this year than last. Quick-service restaurants realized a 3% increase in servings in the year ending July 2014 vs. last year, and independent restaurants grew servings by 2%. Non-commercial foodservice, like hospitals, schools and workplace cafeterias, served 5% more breaded chicken sandwiches in the period.

“Among the factors driving the increase in breaded chicken sandwich orders from a consumer standpoint is the perception of chicken, breaded or not, being a better-for-you option and the availability of new types of breading, like whole grain,” says Annie Roberts, vice president, NPD SupplyTrack. “On the operations end, chicken and chicken sandwich restaurant concepts have expanded units, and more restaurants and non-commercial foodservice outlets, like schools and hospitals are serving breaded chicken sandwiches.”

Burgers still bring in the sales
Even though breaded chicken sandwiches have caught the eye of foodservice consumers, it’s not like burgers were left at the altar. That’s because the burger category is still at the top and growing with 9 billion servings ordered at foodservice outlets in the year ending July 2014 period, a 3% increase over last year.

From the supply end of the equation, units and pounds of ground beef patties shipped from distributors to foodservice outlets increased by 1%, according to NPD’s SupplyTrack, a monthly tracking service that codes, aggregates and tracks every product shipped from a critical mass of major broadline distributors to each of their foodservice operators.

“Whether it’s breaded chicken sandwiches or burgers, these are huge categories that foodservice distributors, manufacturers and operators can look at in a variety of different ways,” says Roberts. “However, a key aspect of identifying growth opportunities with these categories is understanding consumer demand.”