While fast-food businesses prefer to talk about expansion plans and digital subscriptions, many customers are looking for answers: "How is that made?" and "What''s coming to the menu next?"
Certain customers prefer to tweak their favorite chains'' menus. However, the process of shifting from idea to menu item often remains subdued because of the increase in competition and the fact that restaurants don''t want to give them an advantage.
Another research topic, according to the executive, is: "People who may not come to us as often: What do they want?"
It takes a long time to get started. It took years to get started, from concept to actually being in our restaurants. We often begin with the notion that anything we do must accomplish two things:: have our unique and unparalleled quality and be authentic to the Popeyes brand.
So we do a lot of research to understand who our guests are, what they want, and who our guests are not. The folks who may not come to us as often, what do they want? Once we''ve got a team of ten chefs, who we call the Mother of the Chicken Sandwich. They''re all in the kitchen every day and experiment with the best methods to use it.
It is going to sensory testing and market testing and operational testing to see what effect it will have on our franchisees and profitability. After that, it eventually goes to market. However, it may vary from a one- to three-year process.
Expanding to Plant-Based Protein?
Plant-based protein is a key component of the business. Have you thought about expanding in this direction?
In the United Kingdom, we have actually a red-bean burger. I don''t know if you''ve ever eaten red beans and rice, but we took it and made it into a burger.
What''s more authentic than taking a really popular side item and making it into a plant-based, while reintroduced to that original point of authenticity? [The bean burger] was designed for this particular market, but if you consider the United States as a market, then you may look at a slew of foods.
It''s still early on, but, at least, anything we choose to do isn''t going to be a fake. It''s going to be something we''d wish to do, and best of all, for the long term.
Is there a litmus test for what fits the Popeyes brand? How do you decide what''s on or off brand?
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Ohhh, the research tells us. When we ask our guests, whether it''s quantitative or qualitative, the research often tells us, "Can you see yourself buying this from Popeyes?" or "Do you see yourself craving this from Popeyes?"
The chain previously stated that it is considering "tech solutions" to the way its kitchens and restaurants are performed. Is automation a strategy you''re aiming for?
People are often confused with technology while they think of robots assembling their foods. I''ve seen some of that happening in the industry, but this is not really the reality of what we''re doing.
Our objective is to be focused on incremental innovation in order to make life easier for team members. We''ve had to take a hard look at what the most difficult components of the job are, as well as the difficulties encountered.
Exploring Tech Solutions for efficiency
The solution does not have to be as sexy as robots.
A good example is the fact that once a team member was able to fry out the chicken, after 12 minutes had passed, and it was done cooking.
Something as simple as an auto-lift fryer, which has a tray that allows people to lift up the chicken automatically may not be quite impressive, and it might have been done a long time ago. But it is something that we''re now bringing into our dining facilities because our staff members want it and stated that it will make their life easier and safer for them.
Simple things like that can go a long way in our system.
In the face of a nationwide labor shortage, how do you recruit and retain employees? The epidemic forced many to reconsider working in this field altogether.
We have around 3,000 eateries in North America, and we are 99% franchises. So, our franchisees are actually employed by us, and in the last couple of years, we''ve seen a labor shortage.
When it comes to hiring, people often talk about competitive wages and benefits, which, of course, are critical to getting people out there. We also must focus on learning, rewards, recognition, and opportunities for advancement, as well as building a culture of engagement.
If someone is starting in our restaurants, it [will result in a] two to three times higher retention rate later.
Training is a major area that we''ve invested in to ensure that all members of our team are trained during the first two days or that when a new product is coming out they feel very comfortable before they ask them for it.
Several fast-food chains are falling over themselves in order to get people to order from their apps. Let''s talk about Popeyes'' actions in this area.
It''s been an interesting journey for us. If you compare prepandemic to where we are today, our digital sales were virtually zero prepandemic. People often claim that the pandemic accelerated a whole of trends that were already occurring. When lockdowns were put in place, delivery really shifted our business.
Many of our guests learned that you cannot eat pizza every night. Pizza has historically been the most common delivery item, but the fried chicken ranks among them.
We sucked into that understanding and made our chicken available on our own app through all of the aggregators. That helped us move from 0% digital sales to almost 20% of our sales coming from digital just three years later.
Opening New Stores Globally
Your 2022 plans include opening new stores in China, Spain, Brazil, and the United Kingdom, as well as opening in France, India, and Romania for the first time. Tell us about Popeyes'' international presence.
I led the Popeyes business in Asia out of Singapore, and it''s been an amazing experience to actually see how well received [the company] is all around the world.
''We''d started in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Brazil a few years ago. Every time we enter these new markets, we''re met with enormous fanfare. ''It''s a beautiful profile,'' say people from other countries.
Popeyes transcends borders, but, in tandem, the ability to tailor and localize the product has been crucial to global success.
If you go to Vietnam, you will notice spicier flavor profiles than what you''ll find in the United States. We actually call it "Asia Spicy," because it''s somewhat spicier.
If you go to China and try our chicken sandwich in China, it''s not white meat. It''s actually dark meat with the skin on it. It''s a different protein: equally delicious but tailored to the market.