Americans have spent the past year going absolutely wild over fried chicken sandwiches. Now, Popeyes hopes to bring the craze to the United Kingdom.
The company on Tuesday unveiled plans to open its first UK restaurant later this year, following successful launches in Spain and Switzerland, as it accelerates its expansion outside of the United States. It declined to comment on the exact timing or location of its UK debut but said it’s targeting 350 restaurants in the country over the next 10 years.
“We are looking to many locations at this particular moment,” Popeyes UK co-founder Elias Diaz Sese told CNN Business in an interview.
Popeyes — which recently opened in China and Sri Lanka — hopes to replicate its success in the United States, where it’s been one of the fastest-growing restaurant brands. It sold 250 million fried chicken sandwiches in America in just one year, after launching the product in August 2019.
The popularity of the sandwich helped spark a fierce battle with rivals that continues to rage, as a growing number of fast-food chains such as McDonald’s (MCD), Taco Bell and Wendy’s have launched their own versions.
Wendy’s is also launching in the United Kingdom this year after exiting the market in the early 2000s. The company will open five restaurants, including in Oxford, in 2021, with plans to scale rapidly, a spokesperson told CNN Business.
Sese believes now is the perfect time to launch the Popeyes brand in Britain, as it emerges from a time of “hardship” following the coronavirus pandemic. Popeyes is “all about celebration, joy and bringing people together,” he said. The United Kingdom has also seen a “tremendous growth in terms of chicken over the last few years,” Sese added.
Popeyes will be up against stiff competition — and not only from big chains such as KFC and Nando’s, the South African flame-grilled chicken brand beloved by British celebrities such as Adele and Ed Sheeran.
The United Kingdom also has thousands of independently owned fried chicken shops, many of which draw links to the American South through names such as Tennessee Express and Mississippi Fried Chicken.
But Popeyes — which is authentically southern, tracing its roots back to 1972 Louisiana — is confident that its slow-cooked, hand-battered buttermilk chicken will stand out from the crowd.
“Our brand is all about the quality of our food and we think that will put us in a very good position in the UK market,” said David Shear, president international of Restaurant Brands International (RBI), which bought Popeyes in 2017 and also owns Burger King and Tim Hortons.
“You don’t bring a cultural American icon into a country like the UK every day,” added Sese, the Popeyes UK co-founder, who is a former RBI executive.
Popeyes will enter the UK market as part of a joint venture between Restaurant Brands International, Sese and Austrian family investment firm Ring International Holdings.