A lot of the new items on restaurant menus have something in common: chicken.
There are crispy chicken chips, taco shells made out of fried chicken, plus chicken flavored with honey mustard or sriracha — and that's just in the past few months.
The top 250 restaurant chains added some 325 new chicken items during the 12 months ended June 30, according to research from Technomic. For comparison, only 73 new beef items were added in the same period.
The trend reflects consumer cravings for healthier, high-protein meat, not to mention a decade of high beef prices, which made chicken more appetizing for the companies' bottom line.
Since chicken can be healthy or indulgent, it can please a wide spectrum of diners, said Mark Kalinowski, a Nomura analyst.
The new products are also aimed at bolstering sluggish sales, with chains looking to innovative, new products to create buzz and drive traffic into restaurants.
Consumers may have heard of Taco Bell's Cheetos Burrito or the Naked Chicken Chalupa, which features a chicken "taco shell." However, they may not be familiar with the Mexican food chain's latest test: Crispy Chicken Chips, which are wedge-shaped chicken tenders.
"Taco Bell clearly wants to figure out innovative ways to use chicken to its advantage," Kalinowski wrote in a recent research note. "Taco Bell's heritage of innovation continues. And with Taco Bell likely to become more relevant to investors once Yum China is divested from parent company Yum Brands, it's good to keep an eye on 'the Bell.'"
New products can also help chains grab new customers, said Ken Harris, managing partner at Cadent Consulting Group.
"[Brands] want to delight consumers in a way they haven't expected," he told CNBC.