Why Chick-fil-A's new app is No.1 on iTunes. It's probably not what you think

Chick-fil-A's new app has spent three days in a row on the No. 1 spot on iTunes because of its family appeal that also markets to Millennials. 

John Walker/The Fresno Bee/AP
The Chick-fil-A is seen in north Fresno, Calif., on July 27, 2012. Chick-fil-A's new app has spent three days in a row on the number-one slot on iTunes because of its family appeal.

Chick-fil-A's updated app has already seen over 1 million downloads since its launch Wednesday, making it the current No. 1 most downloaded free app on iTunes.

Chick-fil-A has often made headlines for its founders' traditional Christian-family values (including closing on Sunday) and simple chicken sandwiches. The success of the app indicates that families are still behind the chain's success, but with a smartphone-style twist. 

Yes, the offer of a free chicken sandwich if you sign up for the new app (through the end of June) certainly accounts for some of the interest. But that alone wouldn't power its No. 1 status for three days in a row. After all, apps for Sonic, McDonalds, Dairy Queen, and Burger King offer their own signature items free to new downloaders, and none of them have taken the top slot on iTunes. 

So, what's the app's appeal? Faster service for young families.

According to Chick-fil-A's own research, 82 percent of Millennial parents said they would "do almost anything" to avoid waiting with their children in long lines at fast food restaurants. For almost half, that includes sacrificing the meal altogether.

The study shows not only the value in cutting wait times for a busy society accustomed to instant purchases, but also shows the brand is simultaneously playing to its family-oriented fan base while investing in the sometimes-tricky Millennial market. 

“There are roughly 80 million of them. This makes Millennials the biggest generation thus far," Chelsea Davis wrote in a blog for TraceGains, a company that provides technology to improve safety in food manufacturing. "And one thing is for certain, based on research, they are definitely changing the landscape of the food industry." 

Leery of institutions but fond of their food, Millennials are an attractive market that is proving difficult for many major brands. Fast food restaurants have been hit particularly hard by the shift in food preferences, with even McDonald's reporting sales declines. Chick-fil-A continues to open new stores in previously untested markets, achieving more per-restaurant sales than any other American fast food brand, Hayley Peterson reported for Business Insider. 

"The ones that will ultimately gain popularity among Millennials will be those that are willing to innovate while staying authentic," Ms. Davis continued on TraceGains. "Food manufacturers must now walk the line between making all-natural and sustainable product claims, and being 100% truthful in their statements."

The success of the app suggests that Chick-fil-A has found this balance. Chick-fil-A has established its own "authentic" ways to court American families "more vigorously and more successfully" than most, as Adam Chandler wrote for The Atlantic. 

Bear in mind that the family-owned chain, whose founder was a devout Baptist, stays closed on Sundays. In 2012, facing a boycott over controversial comments and since-discontinued donations to anti-LGBT causes, the company enjoyed a massive sales surge by those who felt loyal to the brand. Also, earlier this year, a number of Chick-fil-A operators joined in the company’s Cell Phone Coop challenge, where stores would dish out free ice cream to families that could make it through an entire meal with their phones locked up in little boxes set up on each table.

An early adopter of the antibiotics-free movement and a rare restaurant that still puts a flower on the tables, the chain has managed to convince fans that it is a healthier, more down-home and traditionally American dining experience than most fast food chains even aspire to.

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