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QSR Feature
Off the Menu

“Street food has been around for a long time, that’s what tacos are, what sandwiches are, but suddenly someone has given the category a great name and a great positioning to talk about it,” she says.

Another trend, one that fits better with Popeyes’ offerings, is the consumer’s interest in comfort food. “We’re in a sweet spot right now to begin with because comfort food is the cuisine of 2010,” she says. “If you ask 10 people in a room, eight of them are going to put some variation of fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy, macaroni and cheese, those types of products in their top 10 list of comfort foods. So we’re already there, it’s the nature of our concept.”

While surely the brand will not stray too far from its roots, Alarcón does let on that she has a few tricks up her chef coat’s sleeve. “I can’t tell you because we keep working on it, and I’m hoping that you’ll be featuring it a year from now when it’s been hugely successful,” she says of the mysterious menu innovation.

When pressed for hints, she says the product is meant to address some of the brand’s more recent menu challenges: rounding out its chicken lineup, offering single-user menu options, and reminding consumers of the brand’s ability to make traditional foods with a Louisiana twist.

One trend the brand is unlikely to capitalize on in the near future is the consumer’s obsession with local offerings. Although Popeyes has a local favorites menu at some stores, logistically tapping into the local food movement would be nearly impossible for the national chain. “It’s definitely on our radar, but it’s such a challenge for the volume of food that we require to make a product successful and available all over the country,” she says.

What’s also on Alarcón’s radar that the brand is tapping into is customization. Popeyes offers several condiments and dips, including a Confetti Sweet and Sour Sauce, which is different from a traditional sweet and sour sauce because of its pepper jelly base, to give consumers control over the flavor profile and heat intensity of their own meals. “We just launched the Delta Sauce with the new menu repositioning,” she says. “It’s a cream base with dill relish, Creole mustard, a little chipotle pepper, a little cayenne pepper, and it’s all tied together in a wonderful base.”

With this type of control, Alarcón hopes consumers feel comfortable trying new foods, like Cajun offerings, that might not have traditionally been their first pick. Her encouragement in adventurous dining comes from being a mother of two daughters. “I’m encouraging them to have a very open mind, taste everything, try everything, you don’t have to eat it but at least try it,” she says of her girls—a lesson that’s “exactly” like what she’s trying to teach consumers.

“The Crawfish is one of those products that is such a truly unique product that no one else is going to do anything like that, and I think it’d be kind of odd for other brands to consider a product of that nature. It’s truly a very adventurous food item that’s very believable from Popeyes.

“It’s another one of those products that we bring in. We marinate it fresh in the restaurant, then again it’s hand battered and breaded. We have to set up a whole separate batter and breading station for this, which in a limited footprint can be a challenge, but our operators pull it off beautifully.”

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Blair Chancey is QSR’s editor.