Popeyes Nottingham Exterior

Popeyes UK sees a runway of 40-50 openings per year, with whitespace for many more sites in the long term, CEO Tom Crowley tells MCA.

The New Orleans-founded, TDR Capital-backed chicken concept recently passed the 50-site mark – approximately 2.5 years after its UK debut in November 2021 – with another 15 openings in the pipeline for 2024.

The CEO is reluctant to pinpoint a long-term target, but nevertheless points out that other QSR concepts have over 1,000-strong estates.

“We won’t rush into franchising,” Crowley says. “Why would you when things are going so well?

“That’s an opportunity for further growth in future years…but we’re always working on the next opening.”

As Popeyes secures its pipeline for 2025, growth will be predominantly company-owned in the next few years.

Like-for-like sales remain robust, he adds, with strong opportunities for growth in travel hubs and drive-thrus.

“We’ll go into travel hubs more in the future,” Crowley continues. “Drive-thrus are a majorly important part of the mix, but the in-line business is equally strong.”

The growth strategy so far has been to begin with flagship city centre locations such as the site in Manchester Piccadilly, and then branching out to more locations around the city, including a drive-thru.

“Property is never quite as simple as that, but all formats have a place.”

A notable exception is London’s Zone 1, where Popeyes is yet to make its mark – but the group is “not rushing” to pay higher rents. It would consider the right opportunity for a flagship central London store, however.

“Manchester, meanwhile, is doing fantastic numbers, as busy as anything we have in London,” Crowley reveals. “Glasgow is also doing fantastically well, so we’ve proven we can go to Scotland, Wales, and major cities, and open multiple stores.”

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When it comes to drive-thrus, Popeyes continues to look for more opportunities. The payoff is worth the investment, according to him.

“It’s hard, competitive, and takes forever, but a great market. We’re seeing drive-thrus come through that we started work on 2.5 years ago.

“It’s a more complex model for us operationally, but a slicker experience for the customer.”

Despite Popeyes’ meteoric rise across the UK, Crowley emphasises brand awareness remains relatively small compared to big QSR chains. The group stands at 35%, which he sees as a positive because of the remaining potential.

The idea, ultimately, is to build sites in strong locations, gradually build awareness and credibility, then build out.

“It’s not just a numbers game – we want to build something we’re proud of.”

Reflecting on 2.5 years in the UK, Crowley further reveals the Stratford store – Popeyes’ first – is still one of its highest taking. Meanwhile, its most recent opening, a drive-thru in Gloucester, will “easily” do six figures this week.

“Remarkably, the brand continues to surprise us,” he says. “There’s hype when the first store opens, but that impact has sustained over 52 stores.

“That’s the main surprise and delight for us.

“We’re going fast, but we’re growing the brand at the right speed. If you overstretch, you lose something.”