What Popeyes' Viral Menu Strategy Can Teach You About Staying Relevant Innovative new dishes has helped this chicken institution stay among the top five franchises in the world.

By Britta Lokting

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This story appears in the January 2023 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Courtesy of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen

See where Popeye's ranks when our 45th Annual Franchise 500 list is released on January 16, 2024.

Started Franchising: 1976 | Total Units: 3,851 | Cost to Open: $383.5K-$3.5M

Last year was Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen's 50th anniversary, but it was more than just a milestone. It was also an opportunity to amplify its message and continue its momentum. In 2021, for example, Popeyes opened more than 200 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada, and it remained on track to break records again in 2022. Although it often touts its Louisiana roots, it is very much a national brand, and continues to grow in numerous markets across the U.S. This is Popeyes' third consecutive year ranking in the Franchise 500 and third consecutive year in the Top 10, moving up one spot each year since 2021.

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So, how did it maximize its big 5-0? Popeyes hosted its franchisees at a convention in New Orleans, where attendees addressed strategic plans for future growth. Part of that growth has included expanding the menu to include items such as its Buffalo Ranch Chicken Sandwich (following the success of its first fried chicken sandwich in 2019) as well as its Blackened Chicken Sandwich, and bringing back its beloved Cajun Flounder Sandwich. "Menu innovations have really taken Popeyes to the next level," says Jourdan Daleo, senior vice president of field operations.

Popeyes also used the anniversary to offer promotions and surprises. In June, it offered customers two pieces of signature bone-in chicken for 59 cents, the same price it sold for in 1972 when the company was founded. It also temporarily brought back the Cajun Rice side dish and made a video featuring couples discussing 50 years of love.

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The anniversary year landed during a challenging time for restaurants due to rising inflation. But instead of panicking, Popeyes used the current environment as an opportunity to reiterate its unique flavors and new menu offerings. Customers probably know Popeyes best for its bone-in items, but the sandwich launches helped the company showcase its boneless abilities as well. By taking advantage of a difficult restaurant landscape, Popeyes was able to show off what makes them stand out. In turn, this has helped its customers see Popeyes in a new light. "I've seen our guests really get to know Popeyes through a variety of products," says Daleo.

Related: Popeyes' New Collaboration With Megan Thee Stallion Just Broke the Internet

Even though the anniversary year has now ended, Popeyes says it'll remain in party mode — touting its Cajun and Creole hospitality and 12-hour marination technique. "We see a lot of celebration of our food," says Daleo, "and we take that to heart."

Britta Lokting is a journalist based in New York. Her features have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and elsewhere.

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