Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Leon Kaye headshot

Popeyes No Longer Playing Chicken with Animal Welfare

By Leon Kaye
Animal Welfare

Popeyes reaped huge financial and viral success with last summer’s rollout of its popular chicken sandwich, which in turn has inspired countless memes and, well, several bizarre episodes of violence. Critics have pointed out the results of the sandwich’s wild popularity were often brutal for both Popeyes employees and for what they were cooking, frying and serving — all those chickens.

The fast-food chain has long claimed to be committed to animal welfare principles, but some observers have retorted the statement is at best vague.

More fast-food companies pledge to improve animal welfare standards

Meanwhile Popeyes' competitors in the fast-food space, including Qdoba, Jack in the Box and Chipotle have adopted new animal welfare policies over the past three years in response to the increased consumer demand for humanely-raised food.

Now, the Miami-based company, with the backing of its owner, Restaurant Brands International, has become the first U.S. chicken restaurant chain to adopt the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC). Popeyes says it will deploy these guidelines no later than 2024. The company joins over 200 brands, including Starbucks and Subway, which have signed similar pledges.

Companies that follow the BCC’s guidelines have to adopt these four changes, as well as agree to third-party auditing:

  • Raise breeds of chickens that are more resilient in the long term.
  • Ensure their suppliers provide more space for chickens by following Global Animal Partnership (GAP) guidelines.
  • Improve those chickens’ overall quality of life per GAP’s standards, including better bedding conditions and adequate lighting.
  • Adopt stunning systems at the time of processing and end what animal rights activists on both sides of the pond say is the brutal and cruel throat-slitting of fully conscious birds.

“Every year billions of chickens suffer in our food system,” said Leah Garcés, president of Mercy For Animals, in an emailed statement to TriplePundit. “We commend Popeyes for taking a significant step toward reducing this suffering with their new policy. It also makes clear that if the king of the chicken sandwich can commit to treating chickens better, there’s no excuse for any of their competitors, such as McDonald’s, KFC and Chick-Fil-A, not to follow suit.”

It's been said the road to success and failure are almost exactly to same — and yes, the chicken sandwich has been a double-edged sword for Popeyes. For all the buzz the chain received last summer and into the fall, there were more than a few pundits who described that chapter of chicken sandwich mania as “nihilism,” sarcastically described as “here to save America” and having its own “dark truth.”

Not all animal welfare activists will be satisfied with Popeyes’ latest move, but perhaps kinder treatment of chickens will generate kinder headlines for Popeyes once these new guidelines become the norm.

Image credit: Mai Moeslund/Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye