Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen has seen tremendous growth in Canada in the past five years with more to come as the company continues its expansion plans across the country.
Rob Manuel, General Manager in Canada for the company, said growth has been heightened over the last three years. In that period of time, Popeyes opened 100 locations in Canada.
“It’s really been kind of growing a lot over the last couple of years. Currently it’s what we’re seeing for 2021 and what we hope to continue in the future,” he said.
“We’re not currently from coast to coast. We’re actually from Ontario, West. So we’re in all the provinces between Ontario and BC. And we recently announced that we’ll be opening in Atlantic Canada in early 2022.”
Popeyes opened in Canada in 1984 – the first international market outside of the United States. That first location was in Toronto. Up until 2016, there were only locations in Ontario in Canada and before that it was a Toronto-based brand.
Today, in Canada, the company has just over 260 locations.
Popeyes’ overall current store count is 3,577 and they’re found in 37 different countries.
In Canada, Manuel said the company’s footprint is evolving over time.
“A Popeyes’ prototype restaurant is around 2,200 square feet, ideally with a drive thru. If you look at our historical footprint in Canada we’ve had a lot more inline restaurants. But we’re starting to do a lot more of the kind of larger free-standing drive thrus. They currently represent over 50 per cent of our new units. So we’re starting to see a lot more of those coming down the pipeline. And certainly that’s our focus going forward,” he said.
Manuel said chicken QSR (quick service restaurant) is a busy category.
“I think one of the things that makes Popeyes unique and special and really loved by customers is the food and the food quality in particular. I think one of the things we take a ton of pride in is the fact that most of our products are hand-battered, and breaded in our restaurants, featuring Louisiana marinades. All of our products are marinaded for at least 12 hours. We like to say that our product is cooked slow and served fast so you’re able to get what feels like southern home cooking in more of a QSR space,” he explained. “It’s really what differentiates us from a lot of just QSR as a category – the quality of food and ingredients you’re getting in our restaurants.”
Looking into the future, Manuel said the company believes it has lots of room for growth in Canada.
“What market research tells us is there’s still increasing demand from Canadians and because we’re not coast to coast today and still somewhat under-penetrated in a lot of Western Canada, we still think we’ve got a fair amount of runway ahead of us for growth,” he said.
“There’s certainly demand from Canadians and we’re working hard to make sure we can fulfill that.”
The company opened 26 locations last year and recently it just passed 20 this year.
Manuel said the company will continue to add new locations this year. Factors in choosing locations include traffic counts, visibility, population density.
“We’ve been going through some market planning of optimizing the brand across Canada and really identifying where we want to be and where we think it makes sense for us,” he said.
Manuel said the image of the restaurant is improving as it is being modernized with a more contemporary image which was introduced last year. Drive thrus are an added convenience and will play a bigger role in the future for the brand.
The brand will also continue to focus on digital which has been accelerated during the pandemic.
“The biggest change we saw in the short term was really the increase in the delivery business. Going back through 2018, 2019, and into 2020, delivery was a growing part of our business for sure, and you certainly saw the growth of the industry of Uber Eats and Skip the Dishes of the world and that service. During March, April 2020 it really became a reliance on that service as people felt comfortable and safe using it,” said Manuel.
Customers have discovered the convenience of that service and will continue to use it, he added.
“When we probably look back whenever and wherever the dust settles on this, I think that’s one of the things that will have changed in the industry. We’re excited to see traffic coming back to the restaurant but I think that delivery business isn’t going anywhere.”