Popeyes is looking to open five or six drive-thrus this year, as it ramps up its opening pipeline to two new sites a month, CEO Tom Crowley tells MCA.

Crowley sees the opening of the brand’s first UK drive-thru as an critical benchmark for the business, and a “big opportunity” for the future.

The new sites will utilise dynamic pricing technology, which chief technology officer David Carey has built with a UK perspective in mind.

Meanwhile sales as the 18-strong Louisiana-founded fried chicken brand have been holding up, with January better than expected and February half term trading “through the roof”.

After a pause in January, Popeyes has resumed its new site opening spree, with Cambridge last week and Reading this week.

Crowley tells MCA: “We’re looking to the year ahead with optimism. We’re already thinking about 2024 and what that might look like.

“The exciting thing for us this year is drive-thru, our first drive-thru is opening in May, and we’ve got probably five or six of those to come through this year.

“That’s a good benchmark for business. QSR and drive are intrinsically linked, we see it as a big opportunity for the future.”

On the tech powering the drive-thru sites, Crowley says dynamic ordering would be used in the screens.

“There’s some really quite cool new tech and in terms of the ordering process, dynamic screens that understand the speed of the lane and can adapt menus accordingly.

“We’re really looking to bring digital heavily through the drive launch. Curbside is also a big part of it, kind of standard these days.”

Popeyes will focus mostly on retail park for its drive-thru sites, with the first a former KFC site in Rotherham, and the next one also on a retail park.

“We will go on to main roads as well, but for the moment, a bit like the High Street, we’re trying to get in big conurbations where there’s a lot of traffic and a lot of footfall so we can take advantage of that and get the brand well established.”

In terms of the wider expansion plan, Popeyes will be spread around 50/50 between out of town sites, and flagship city centre locations, such as forthcoming Cambridge, Cardiff and Plymouth.

After establishing major city centre restaurants, Popeyes will build out and put drive-thrus around the town or city, Crowley says.

After first launching in Stratford in November 2021, Popeyes is still generating buzz around new openings, with queues at Derby and Leicester.

The UK brand has tweaked the food slightly, adding more heat and spice to some products, and offering honey with the biscuits, but generally has remained the same as when it launched.

“The chicken sandwich is still the product for us, that really is flying. The scores are well off the charts.”

The business has held firm on price point in order to keep Popeyes firmly in the QSR category.

“For us QSR is great value, incredible food, quickly. You can quickly price yourself out of that if you get too carried away.

“Yes, we’re having success, but we’re building a brand for the long-term and we need to be there for people right now when times are hard.

“We’re still £7.99 for our chicken sandwich meal. That’s still great value and its paying dividends for us in terms of volumes and repeat visits.

“I think QSR is quite resilient. Our volumes are very similar to pre-Christmas, we don’t really see any change. January was a little bit of a slower, but it was nothing like we anticipated, it’s looking strong.

“It gives me gives me a lot of confidence around the brand’s ability to drive repeat visits.

Delivery is “very strong”, though does fluctuate according to the season.

In Brighton, where overall sales are rivalling Stratford, delivery is 20-25%

“Delivery is a core part of the business and it’s still growing,” Crowley adds. “I think it’s hit a level, delivery levels have stabilised in terms of new entries to the market, but it’s holding.”