The fast-food world wants you to eat chicken tenders or nuggets instead of wings or hamburgers. That's because the white-meat pieces of poultry cost them less than on-the-bone wings or ground beef.

McDonald's hopped on that bandwagon in September, returning chicken tenders to its menu for the first time in four years. And this week, both Wendy's (NASDAQ: WEN) and Restaurant Brands International's (NYSE: QSR) Burger King added new chicken offerings, too.

What are Wendy's and Burger King doing?

Burger King, which already offered plain chicken nuggets and multiple flavors of its Chicken Fries product, has added Spicy Chicken Nuggets to its menu. The new nuggets come in a 10-piece serving for $1.49. The burger chain has also debuted a Crispy Buffalo Chicken Melt. Both are limited-time offerings.

Wendy's has arguably made an even-more aggressive move by adding Chicken Tenders to its menu on a permanent basis. Tenders are a premium product. The cut of meat used is the whole pectoralis minor muscle of a chicken, which is attached to the main breast, according to Nation's Restaurant News, which described the meat as "sort of the tenderloin of the chicken." 

"We decided to raise the bar because customers deserve better-tasting and quality chicken," said Wendy's Chief Marketing Officer Kurt Kane in a press release. "After two years of perfecting our new Chicken Tenders and Side of S'Awesome sauce, we knew we had a winner."

Wendy's sells its tenders in a three-piece meal with a small fries, and a small drink for $5. It will also offer them a la carte in three or four-piece offerings, but the company did not say how it would price them.

Why chicken?

While tenderloins are a premium product, and white-meat nuggets are not the cheap chicken-plus-filler mystery bites of old, even higher-quality chicken generally costs lost than beef. That can change seasonally, but doubling down on poultry-based dishes gives these chains pricing protection, and helps them avoid having too much of their profits tied to one commodity.

Normally, when a fast-food chain adds a new menu item, its main goal is to increase sales. In this case, that would be more of a pleasant byproduct. These moves are about giving consumers more choices and reducing somewhat the chains' exposure to the price of beef.

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Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

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