“Huge demand” for dine-in restaurants from both existing and new customers has been a key factor in KFC UK & Ireland’s ambitious new opening target.

The business, which has just opened its 1,000th site, announced last week that is was planning to open 50 new restaurants this year, and another 300 over the next five years.

Paula MacKenzie, managing director, KFC UK & Ireland, told MCA the business had achieved “a big turnaround” over the past five years, into “a thriving, vibrant and connected brand”.

“Our franchisees have been on this journey with us and have a renewed sense of purpose and ambition, which our new restaurant formats, from small box to roadside, enables them to realise,” she said.

“This combination of commitment, capital and capability, combined with brand strength, has been the real driving force for growth.”

MacKenzie said KFC had innovated with new restaurant formats to meet the needs of different locations, which has given it more flexibility in scouting new potential sites, giving it access to locations it wouldn’t have had before.

New guests are also trying KFC due to its new locations and as a result of the work it has done to develop the brand and make it more relevant, which is translating into increased sales, she said.

While the brand is looking to increase its footprint in the UK & Ireland through new channels, MacKenzie explained it was important for there to be no compromise on either guest experience or product quality.

“Whilst dark kitchens are an area we are exploring to see how they could work for us, they must be operationally sound and guarantee an optimal experience, which means we would need to undertake extensive testing,” she said.

“Dine-in also continues to represent huge demand for us, so our restaurants and amazing teams will always remain at the heart of our operations.”

Among the key elements of the brand’s transformation has been ensuring that its marketing serves its business better “by knowing who we are and being able to proudly communicate that to the world”.

“We redefined a distinctive brand voice which we have stayed true to. We’ve stuck by a strategy even during the most difficult times which has served the business well from a commercial point of view and a cultural one,” added MacKenzie.

In addition, it has invested more in local communities, doing work behind the scenes on welfare, environment and generally being a good neighbour, she said, “whether that’s leading the charge in chicken welfare in our category or committing to becoming a circular zero waste business by 2035 and net zero by 2024 or sooner”.