US fried chicken brand Popeyes is confident it can reach its target of 350 UK sites over the next 10 years, despite competition in the chicken market, David Shear, president of parent company Restaurant Brands International (RBI) has told MCA.

He said Popeyes has already set a precedent for achieving that level of “aggressive” expansion in other international markets it has opened in, including Canada, with more than 300 restaurants and Turkey, which has more than 200.

The founded in New Orleans in 1972, Popeyes will be the third RBI brand to try to gain a foothold in the UK restaurant sector, after Burger King and Tim Hortons. Popeyes will enter the UK market as part of a joint venture between PLK Europe GmbH, a subsidiary of RBI, Ring International Holdings and Popeyes UK co-founder Elias Diaz Sese – a former executive of RBI, and a non-executive director of Domino’s UK.

Shear said that since the brand was acquired by RBI in 2017, one of the main ambitions has been to grow it around the world. “It’s taken some time to put in place the right infrastructure to get ready to scale but in the past couple of years we have started to grow and accelerate our expansion quite rapidly,” he said.

Popeyes recently entered Brazil, China, Spain and Switzerland, and “there will be more markets to come”. Despite the challenges brought about by Covid, Shear said that its launch in Switzerland last November, in the middle of a lockdown, was actually the most successful from a sales perspective of all its international launches.

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“We are extremely excited about the UK because we think that the customers in the UK are going to love our product and we think it is a market that is perfectly timed for a new and really strong entrant into the chicken market,” he said.

“The UK is obviously a market that has some competition. It is a big chicken market but I think what makes us really confident is that I really strongly believe we have the best product you can find in the market,” explained Shear.

Popeyes is currently on the look out for multiple sites in the UK and hopes to have its first restaurant open before the end of the year. Shear said the brand will look to open a mix of company-owned and franchise sites in a variety of locations including town and city centre locations and out of town drive-thrus. “The brand works in all different formats and we will try and build out a really successful network in the UK,” he added.

Shear explained that providing a really great guest experience is a key focus for the brand, part of which is down to the product and the environment of the restaurants, but increasingly it is also down to technology. “At this time you have to talk about having a seamless digital experience as well, and that means offering guest flexibility to access the brand however they want,” he said.

He added that while the US market is driven more by drive-thrus, he believes the Popeye product range lends itself really well to delivery.

Popeyes currently operates 3,400 restaurants across 29 countries.

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