Cult US fast food chain Popeyes Chicken to launch in UK

Suban Abdulla
·3 min read
The world has been abuzz this week with talk of Popeye's fried chicken sandwich. But how does it stack up in a packed field of competitors? Nick Kindelsperger of the Chicago Tribune offers up his view. (Nick Kindelsperger/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
A Popeye's fried chicken sandwich. Photo: Nick Kindelsperger/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

A fast food chain behind a chicken sandwich that bewitched the United States has set its sights on the UK.

Popeyes said on Tuesday it will launch in the UK this year, with the goal of opening hundreds of restaurants in the coming years as part of a European expansion plan. The first restaurant is expected to open by the end of 2021.

Founded in New Orleans in 1972, the company is known for its Louisiana style menu that includes spicy chicken, chicken tenders, fried shrimp, and other regional items.

Popeyes created a storm in 2019 with the launch of its fried chicken sandwich, part of what became known as the "chicken sandwich wars" with rivals like Chick-fil-A and Wendy's. The new menu item caused an online frenzy and became a meme on Twitter (TWTR), prompting long queues, shortages, and even think pieces from the likes of the New Yorker.

Watch: 7 sneaky ways fast-food restaurants get you to spend more money

Popeyes famous "Southern-style” chicken sandwich comes with mayo (regular or spicy), thick-cut pickles, a buttery brioche bun, and a chicken breast seasoned and spiced with Popeye's traditional buttermilk batter.

Shortages and a frenzy to get hold of the sandwich led to fights, death threats and an incident where a cashier was threatened at gunpoint.

The attention helped drive record sales and raise the stock of Popeyes' parent company Restaurant Brands International (QSR), which also owns Burger King and Tim Hortons. Popeyes will come to the UK markets as part of a deal between its owner — PLK Europe GmbH, Ring International Holdings (RIH) — and co-founder of Popeyes UK, Elias Diaz Sese.

David Shear, president international of RBI, said: “Our UK launch will build on other successful international expansions in Spain, Switzerland, China, the Philippines and most recently in Sri Lanka.

"We are confident that our UK guests will love their fried chicken from Popeyes and we look forward to offering an alternative product in a major international market that we believe is ripe for disruption."

The launch is expected to lead to major investment in talent and digital innovation and will create a new jobs, including "critical operational roles in construction, supply chain and distribution," Popeyes UK said.

We are very pleased to launch Popeyes, a brand that has brought moments of celebration to guests globally, something we believe is important more now than ever," said Elias Diaz Sese, co-founder of Popeyes UK.

"It allows us to contribute in hardship moments for the country by creating hundreds of career opportunities. We truly aspire to become an employer of reference for big-hearted talent through care, service and supporting the neighbourhoods in which we operate."

Sold out hangs at the Popeyes on Brookline Avenue in Boston, US. Photo: Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Sold out hangs at the Popeyes on Brookline Avenue in Boston, US. Photo: Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The UK will be the brand’s 11th country in Europe, the Middle East and Africa region, which already has more than 350 Popeyes restaurants. Popeye's opened in Spain in 2019 and Switzerland in 2020. The company currently owns over 3,400 restaurants across 29 countries.

READ MORE: Canada's Tim Hortons UK expansion to create 2,000 jobs

“We are extremely proud to bring this beloved brand to the United Kingdom," said Andreas Hacker, CEO of RIH in Scandinavia and the UK.

"We want to become the first choice for chicken in the country by serving our guests fresh and locally sourced chicken, offering the iconic tastes and joy of Popeyes through a rich in-store and digital experience."

Watch: These are the highest-calorie items and meals from UK and US fast-food chains like McDonald's and KFC