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Expand chart
Data: USDA, National Chicken Council; Chart: Axios Visuals

Popeyes only makes up a small portion of profits for owner Restaurant Brands International, but the success of its chicken sandwich could change the calculus for the brand.

The big picture: Chicken has been an increasing share of Americans' diets since the 1980s when doctors began warning that eating too much saturated fat from red meat could increase the risk of heart disease.

  • Last year more poultry than red meat was eaten by U.S. consumers per capita, with chicken almost closing the gap with a combination of beef, pork, veal and mutton/lamb by itself.
  • Popeyes already is growing faster than both Restaurant Brands International's Tim Hortons and Burger King, according to Q2 results.

The intrigue: Chicken also has become much less expensive in recent years, driving a surge in buying from cash-strapped U.S. workers who have seen the costs of health care, education and housing skyrocket while their paychecks have stayed roughly the same.

  • "In 1960 a pound of chicken cost half as much as a pound of beef. This ratio has now fallen to one-third," the Economist notes.
  • "The proliferation of antibiotics in industrial agriculture allows farmers to keep chickens in denser and dirtier conditions than ever before. A study by Martin Zuidhof from the University of Alberta found that the average broiler chicken, raised for meat, weighed 4.2kg at 56 days of age in 2005, up from just 0.9kg in 1957."

Go deeper: Popeyes' chicken sandwich and the future of fast food

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