Get All Access for $5/mo

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

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.

Related: Considering franchise ownership? Get started now and take this quiz to find your personalized list of franchises that match your lifestyle, interests and budget.

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.

View the 2023 Franchise 500 Ranking Now

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.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Leadership

How to Close the Trust Gap Between You and Your Team — 5 Strategies for Leaders

Trust is tanking in your workplace. Here's how to fix it and become the boss your team needs to succeed.

Marketing

6 Cost-Effective Ways to Acquire Brand Ambassadors

Boost your brand's visibility and credibility with budget-friendly strategies for acquiring brand ambassadors.

Health & Wellness

Get a Year of Unlimited Yoga Class Downloads for Only $23 Through June 17

Regular exercise has been proven to increase energy and focus, both of which are valuable to entrepreneurs and well-known benefits of yoga.

Growing a Business

He Immigrated to the U.S. and Got a Job at McDonald's — Then His Aversion to Being 'Too Comfortable' Led to a Fast-Growing Company That's Hard to Miss

Voyo Popovic launched his moving and storage company in 2018 — and he's been innovating in the industry ever since.

Side Hustle

'The Work Just Fills My Soul': She Turned Her Creative Side Hustle Into a 6-Figure 'Dream' Business

Kayla Valerio, owner of vivid hair salon Haus of Color, transformed her passion into a lucrative venture.

Business Culture

Why Remote Work Policies Are Good For the Environment

Remote work policies are crucial for ESG guidelines. Embracing remote work can positively impact your business and employees.