Popeyes to take advantage of QSR's 'wide open' seafood space

Popeyes' U.S. President Ralph Bower spoke at Oppenheimer's 13th Annual Consumer Conference Wednesday, outlining the brand's growth path throughout the past five years — a path that began in 2008 with the implementation of its strategic pillars.

Those pillars — which include building a distinctive brand, running great restaurants, growing restaurant profits, accelerating quality restaurant openings and creating a culture of servant leaders — continue to be Popeyes' priority, which has set the chain apart from others, Bower said.

"Strategic plans usually aren't very interesting. Ours is a little more than most because it was put into place in 2008 and it really hasn't changed," he said. "It may not be sexy and it is basic, but it does really work."

Another differentiator for the Popeyes' brand is its focus on both chicken and seafood. This is a good position to be in right now, Bower said.

"(Boneless) fried chicken is the No. 1 growing category in all of QSR and a lot of our innovation over the past five years has been around boneless — with our Rip'n Chick'n, Dip'n Chick'n, Wicked Chicken and authentic spicy chicken tenders," he said.

Meanwhile, the QSR seafood opportunity is "wide open," and because of that, Popeyes intends to focus on its seafood platform for the next five years and "fill a big portion" of the space, Bower said.

Additonally, Popeyes has strong limited-time offers, which have resulted in restaurant sales growth, and distinctive sides that emulate its Louisiana heritage. Because of this menu pipeline, Bower said the company's food offerings are its greatest strength and it is now working to balance that out with a focus on brand experience and environment.

"Running a great restaurant is like a three-legged stool — the quality of food, quality of experience and quality of the environment. We have the longest food leg of any QSR in the industry," he said. "We've been working on the experience and environment legs."

Part of that effort has come with the company's restaurant remodeling initiative, which reflects its recent Louisiana-themed rebrand. About 40 percent of the system is currently in the new image. The company expects that to grow to 60 percent by the end of this year, and to 90 percent by the end of 2015.

Finally, Bower also touched on the company's growth. As of right now, the chain has about 1,700 U.S. restaurants, or what he calls "a lot of white space domestically." Popeyes' largest competitor, by comparison, has about 4,600 units domestically.

Popeyes' new store restaurant growth has increased every year for the past four years, and this year is forecasted to be its strongest ever, with an estimated 175 to 195 new units opening.

"Only Chick-fil-A and McDonald's built more restaurants than us last year," Bower said. "This year, we're confident we'll be No. 2 on that list."

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