The fastest-growing 'better chicken' chains taking over America

Better burger chains like Smashburger, Shake Shack and Five Guys have exploded over the last decade.

Now, demand for “better chicken” is heating up.

Research firm Technomic provided data for which chicken chains are growing the fastest.

We selected restaurants that grew their number of locations by at least 11% last year. We ranked them by number of units.



Number of US restaurants in 2014: 660

% change from previous year: 11%

Sales in 2014: $US1.3 billion

Zaxby's is a Georgia-based chain known for its fried chicken fingers, crinkle-cut fries and giant slices of Texas toast.

The restaurant's house salad is another customer favourite, which is unusual for a fried chicken chain.

Zaxby's has restaurants in 16 states, primarily in the South, and it has been growing rapidly. The chain just opened its 700th restaurant, up from 660 last year.



Number of US restaurants in 2014: 658

% change from previous year: 11%

Sales in 2014: $US622 million

Wingstop, which recently went public, has been called a cross between Chipotle and Buffalo Wild Wings. The chain's wings are cooked fresh -- never frozen -- and every batch is made to order.

Wingstop prides itself on focusing only on its wings. The menu doesn't offer anything else, except for a couple side items like french fries and cole slaw.

Rapper Rick Ross is among the chain's supporters, and he owns 25 Wingstop franchises. The chain recently reported that sales are up 9% in the most recent quarter, which is double what analysts were expecting.

Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers


Number of US restaurants in 2014: 215

% change from previous year: 22%

Sales in 2014: $US381 million

Raising Cane's serves fresh -- never frozen -- chicken tenders with sides of coleslaw, Texas toast brushed with butter and garlic, and french fries. Drinks include sweet tea, a popular beverage in the South.

Customers rave about the juiciness of the tenders, which are marinated for 24 hours before they are breaded and fried.

In a 2014 survey by research firm Sandelman and Associates, Raising Cane's tied for fourth place among the nation's top 150 chains.

Pollo Tropical

Facebook/Pollo Tropical

Number of US restaurants in 2014: 129

% change from previous year: 22%

Sales in 2014: $US309 million

Pollo Tropical is a Carribean-inspired fast-casual chain that serves citrus grilled chicken, sweet plantains, yellow rice, fried yucca, and mojo-roasted pork, among other dishes.

In Yelp reviews, customers compare Pollo Tropical to Chipotle, but with a Carribbean twist. The chain's version of a burrito bowl is called a TropiChop bowl, and includes a choice of a protein or mixed vegetables, rice or lettuce, and toppings such as tomatoes, onions, peppers, and a variety of sauces.



Number of US restaurants in 2014: 33

% change from previous year: 83%

Sales in 2014: $US62 million

PDQ, which stands for People Dedicated to Quality, serves fresh hand-battered chicken tenders, made-to-order sandwiches, hand-spun milkshakes, and fresh salads, according to the chain's website.

It's owned in part by one of the co-founders of Outback Steakhouse and counts former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow as an investor.

PDQ has locations in eight states including Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, and Texas.



Number of US restaurants in 2014: 20

% change from previous year: 33%

Sales in 2014: $US43 million

Nando's is known for its spicy, flame-grilled chicken, which is marinated for 24 hours before being basted and cooked. The chain is wildly popular in the UK and began opening restaurants in the US in 2008.

It has locations in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Illinois.

Slim Chickens

Facebook/Slim Chickens

Number of US restaurants in 2014: 17

% change from previous year: 31%

Sales in 2014: $US21 million

Slim Chickens is best known for its hand-battered chicken tenders, which are typically served with a slice of Texas toast, french fries, and your choice of more than a dozen dipping sauces.

The chain also serves chicken and waffles, wraps, and salads, and desserts that are served in mason jars.

There are locations in seven states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Nebraska.

Cowboy Chicken

Facebook/Cowboy Chicken

Number of US restaurants in 2014: 12

% change from previous year: 33%

Sales in 2014: $US16 million

Cowboy Chicken is a Texas-based chain that serves rotisserie chicken roasted over a wood-burning fire.

The chain offers more than 17 sides that are made from scratch daily, including 'twice-baked potaters,' creamed spinach, pan-seared vegetables, fried okra, and sweet potatoes.

Cowboy Chicken also serves tacos, sandwiches and salads. It's currently expanding into Louisiana, Nebraska and Alabama.

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