Popeyes is coming back to China in a big way


Hong Kong

Fried chicken fans in China are about to get another option.

The new operator of Popeyes in the country shrugged off an economic slowdown to announce a major expansion on Monday, with plans to open 1,700 stores nationwide over the next decade.

At least 10 of the new outlets will launch in Shanghai in the next quarter alone, with the first opening last Saturday.

Shares of the operator, Shanghai-based Tims China (THCH), rose 3.6% in New York following the news. The company is best known as the operator of Tim Hortons coffee shops in China but recently bought the franchise for Popeyes in the country.

“We are thrilled to open our first Popeyes restaurant in China, a milestone in our longer-term strategy,” Tims China CEO Yongchen Lu said in a statement.

“Despite a challenging overall macroeconomic environment, food service retail sales have been a bright spot in China’s post-Covid recovery — one of the sectors that has rebounded strongly.”

The company said it hoped to focus on wooing younger customers by opening modern storefronts with jazz music and colorful art.

It also plans to offer signature items, such as New Orleans-style spicy chicken and Cajun popcorn shrimp, while introducing menus tailored to the preferences of Chinese consumers.

The localized lineup includes “new options that blend Cajun traditions with local Chinese tastes, including sweet chili chicken, golden cheese and chicken nuggets, and a Longjing tea-based pomelo milkshake,” Tims said in the statement.

Tims is the latest major player working to bring more Western fast food or quick service restaurants to China.

It has already been on a blitz with Tim Hortons, opening 700 stores under that brand in the last four years, Lu noted.

In June, Subway also announced plans to add thousands of new sandwich shops in China, increasing its footprint in the country by more than seven times through a deal inked between the US chain and a Chinese company. The expansion will take place over the next two decades.

Popeyes is owned by Restaurant Brands International (RBI), the food and beverage giant that also runs Burger King and Tim Hortons.

The fried chicken chain previously operated in China under TFI Tab Food Investments, a quick service restaurant group based in Turkey.

RBI had to retreat from China in 2021 after disclosing some “disputes” with its master franchisee. The US company signed a new partnership deal last year with private equity firm Cartesian Capital Group, the founder and top shareholder of Tims China.

Tims China then acquired PLKC International, which holds the exclusive rights to develop and sub-franchise Popeyes in mainland China and Macao in March, in a deal that will keep RBI and Tims as partners, according to a company statement.

RBI CEO Joshua Kobza teased Popeyes’ reentry to China earlier this month, saying “we signed a new master franchise partnership a few months back, and we’re really excited to open some of our first restaurants again.”

Tims said it would allocate $60 million to build out the Popeyes chain in China over the coming years.

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