Since Popeyes’ chicken sandwich arrived in August 2019, the 50-year-old brand has pushed banner results across a three-year stretch. Average-unit volumes rose some $400,000 to $1.8 million and product launches, like nuggets, mac and cheese, and a collaboration with Megan Thee Stallion, continue to produce new news for a chain that’s growth is starting to reflect its buzz.
In 2021, Popeyes opened 208 stores in the U.S. and Canada, which brought its total above 3,000 units. It exited fiscal 2021 with 2,754 U.S locations and 3,705 globally as last year marked the highest figure of openings (net of 254, or unit growth of 7.4 percent) since Restaurant Brands International acquired Popeyes in March 2017 for $1.8 billion.
Popeyes plans to eclipse the 200 bar again in 2022, it said Tuesday, and expects to do so at an even loftier clip. But notably, beyond the store count itself, Popeyes expansion has begun to take on a modern tilt. “Several” of the openings will be in New York City, including a fresh flagship in Times Square slated for June. That restaurant, at 1530 Broadway, will feature Popeyes’ updated design that pays homage to its Cajun roots and Louisiana brand heritage, yet layers tech into the experience. It will include self-order kiosks, a two-story food transporter for upstairs dining, digital order-ready boards, and a merchandising store inside. Ali Butt, who is also behind the additional New York City properties scheduled for 2022, including 6th Ave, Fulton St, and Staten Island, will own and operate the venue.
The design mirrors the unit Popeyes unveiled in March when it re-opened the company’s New Orleans landmark on Canal Street. The 200-year-old building represented the domestic introduction of the “NOLA Eclectic” image Popeyes is bringing to New York, which first launched in Shanghai.
In addition, Popeyes more traditional, freestanding footprint will lean heavily on double drive-thrus this coming calendar. More than 50 percent of stores in its 2022 pipeline currently feature the build, the company said—a move designed to serve increased traffic, improve speed of service, and, ultimately, “further enhance the guest experience.”
While this front-facing development unfolds, Popeyes is working to reconfigure and launch back-of-the-house solutions for new kitchen designs, it said. Popeyes’ updated model developed kitchens and systems from the ground up to be more efficient and capable, and also a better place to work, Popeyes said.
This includes piloting and launching solutions to enable improved operation, make employees’ jobs easier, and improve labor efficiency. The company didn’t elaborate further, but did note its first new design will open at 3836 South Street in Lafayette, Indiana. No timeline was provided.
Other continued evolutions on deck include mobile order and pay, curbside pickup, digital order pickup shelves, self-order kiosks, and Popeyes Rewards available on the Popeyes App. This year, the program will feature exclusive benefits centered on value and frictionless ordering, the company said.
Returning to growth, in February, Popeyes “signed more development agreements around the world than ever before,” RBI CEO Jose Cil said, with deals in India, the U.K., Saudi Arabia, Romania, and France, as well as further expansion in Mexico, the U.S., and Canada. In 2022, Popeyes continued its momentum with an agreement in South Korea, which Cil called one of the largest quick-service chicken markets in the world.
Popeyes added Tuesday it’s also expanding further in China, Spain, Brazil, Philippines, Mexico, Vietnam, Switzerland, and Sri Lanka. The China note, naturally, could be the biggest as Popeyes has only “a couple of hundred restaurants” in Asia today, brand president Sami Siddiqui told QSR earlier in the year. KFC appreciates 26 percent of its total system sales from China alone.
Popeyes U.S. same-store sales dropped 1.8 percent in Q4 year-over-year, and 8.2 percent on a two-year stack. The lap, however, follows a 2019–2020 stretch where Popeyes posted four of the best quarterly same-store sales increases in the quick-service industry over the last 10 years, thanks largely to the chicken sandwich.