In Focus

Popeyes' UK co-founder says chain coming to "own a space" in chicken segment

UK co-founder Elias Diaz Sese elaborates on the chain’s approach to growth, the timing behind the expansion plan, and its philosophy on product development.

Popeyes’ plans to have 350 UK restaurants in a decade’s time was around three years in the making.

Elias Diaz Sese, co-founder of the chain’s operations in the country, knew there was an opportunity for the brand since he arrived in November 2017 and started to work on such approximately a year and a half ago.

Speaking to QSR Media, he expressed confidence in the timing of the move as Britain emerges from a time of "hardship" due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We're getting out of a very difficult year. We could have done it before or we could have done it later but we thought that this was a good moment in order to breed that joy, that celebration, that generosity the brand is all about,” he said.

The company unveiled plans to open its first UK restaurant later this year, following launches in Spain and Switzerland. Sese declined to comment on the exact timing or location of its UK debut but said they are exploring locations in and out of London.

“London is a very attractive market. But there are other markets outside of London that are also attractive. We just need to make sure that we [find]... the right first locations in order to....give [a] first impression on our representation of the brand to the market,” he said.

Sese confirmed they are also looking at various restaurant formats, expecting customers to seek both on-premise and off-premise experience post-lockdown.

“We have a huge interest in drive-thru stores, for many different reasons. COVID has been a very great example of the benefits of this format. But we're looking into a mix,” he explained, citing inline stores and restaurants within transportation hubs.

“We are trying to look into good, solid locations for the long term, no matter what is the type, because the brand is very flexible.”

“We believe that the footfall, somehow, will come back over time. And we are here for the long run...We're pretty sure that people will continue to be coming back to the cities,” he added.

Popeyes is expected to join an already competitive chicken segment, consisting of larger chains and thousands of independently owned fried chicken shops.

Sese believes the American chain, which traces its roots back in the 1970s in Louisiana, will differentiate itself by offering “old school” hospitality and their slow-cooked, hand-battered buttermilk chicken.

The chain sold 250 million of its fried chicken sandwiches in America in one year after launching the product in August 2019. Sese says the chain is looking to "own a space" in the market.

“I would think that there is a space for everyone. But we do believe that we are a very credible alternative,” he said. “We believe we have an extraordinary product, which will be slightly more premium than others.”

Sese said the brand is also open for local or UK-specific additions to the menu, provided if they see gaps within their offering.

The executive also expressed confidence that “hundreds” of jobs will be directly or indirectly created as a result of their UK entry.

“It's going to be hundreds, both directly and indirectly, because we are obviously recruiting lots of suppliers into the business,” he said.

Popeyes’ UK entry is based on an agreement between PLK Europe GmbH, a subsidiary of Restaurant Brands International Inc. (RBI), Ring International Holdings and Sese, who is a former executive of RBI.

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