Popeyes Is Going Global — And Its Secret International Recipe Is Helping the Brand Sizzle Here At Home The fast food chicken giant transformed U.S. franchises with lessons from abroad, climbing the ranks in the Franchise 500 with its unique blend of innovation and tradition.

By Margot Boyer-Dry

entrepreneur daily

This story appears in the January 2024 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Courtesy of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen

To view our entire 2024 Franchise 500 list, including category rankings, click HERE

Started Franchising: 1976

Total Units: 4,091

Cost to Open: $383.5K-$3.7M

If you've been abroad recently, chances are that you've spotted a Popeyes. The brand has entered 18 new countries since 2018, and opened a record number of stores the last three years running. In 2022, it launched in India and Romania.

While many brands find success internationally, Popeyes has been strategic about treating each new opening as an opportunity to learn. "When we've entered new countries, we've had a blank slate to test what success may be," says Jourdan Daleo, senior vice president of Franchising and Field Operations at Popeyes. "We've learned a lot and packaged it up for the U.S. market to keep a 51-year-old brand up with our current innovations."

Inspired by its international locations, U.S. Popeyes are now, for example, upgrading their kitchen equipment and layouts for ease and consistency, and developing back-of-house tech to help employees focus less on drop times and more on customer interactions.

Related: 'All Sides Like It Should Be': A Popular Chicken Chain Is Debuting a New Menu Based on the Viral 'Girl Dinner' TikTok Trend

It's this kind of innovation that keeps Popeyes near the top of our ranking. Last year it was No. 2. This year it slipped slightly to No. 3. But it's Popeyes' fourth consecutive appearance in the Top 10.

While the Popeyes team may take pride in its operations, consumers are increasingly aware of its new products. The brand's hit chicken sandwich from 2019 has since become a whole sandwich platform, now with blackened-chicken and bacon-and-cheese options, plus a truffle chicken sandwich made in collaboration with the high-end hot sauce brand Truff. Newer on the menu are sweet-and-spicy wings, which have become its biggest seller since the sandwich.

One thing is clear: The greater the appetite for chicken, the more people there are who want to sell it. "We have a longer list than ever of people interested in joining our system," says Daleo. This has prompted the company to detail criteria for prospective partners: The ideal candidate must have demonstrated capability in operating restaurants (and enough capital to open one), live in the community they serve, and be committed to long-term growth with the company.

But despite all its expansion, Popeyes still wants everyone to know where it came from: the Big Easy. "New Orleans don't make a lick of sense to most people," a woman says in Popeyes' new ad campaign, released in April 2023. She ticks off some of the city's oddities — being built below sea level, overflowing with shiny beads. The tagline: "We don't make sense. We make chicken."

But truth be told, Popeyes seems to make sense, too.

Related: These Franchises Are Big-Time Earners Right Now, and They're Fun!

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