Add Your Heading Text Here

Add Your Heading Text Here

Everyone Will Grow In A Market Like India, But Brands Focusing More On Consumer Needs Will Grow Faster: Popeyes’ Gaurav Pande

In a recent conversation with Marketing Mind, Gaurav Pande, EVP and Business Head of Popeyes, emphasised that they don't view competition as a hurdle. Instead, the brand prioritises understanding customer needs and continually innovating to meet them. Pande highlighted Popeyes' growth plans in India, aiming to establish it as a Rs 1,000 crore brand in the next 4-5 years.

| Published on June 5, 2024

Everyone Will Grow In A Market Like India, But Brands Focusing More On Consumer Needs Will Grow Faster: Popeyes' Gaurav Pande
Gaurav Pande, EVP & Business Head, Popeyes

Having garnered acclaim in the southern regions of India, the renowned US fried chicken chain, Popeyes, is now embarking on an expansive venture into the North Indian market. Its initial foray into this territory began with the vibrant setting of Chandni Chowk in Delhi. Considering the brand’s current growth trajectory, Gaurav Pande, EVP and Business Head of Popeyes, aims to turn the brand into a Rs 1,000 crore business in India in next 4-5 years.

In a conversation with Marketing Mind, Pande illuminated the intriguing thought process behind initiating the brand’s journey in North India, specifically in Chandni Chowk, Delhi. He explained that Chandni Chowk’s diverse food offerings made it stand out. Additionally, similar to New Orleans, where the Popeyes story began, Chandni Chowk is a vibrant mix of cultures and cuisines.

He also emphasised that as a brand, they prioritise listening to their customers’ wants and fulfilling those wants through constant innovation.

The Brand’s inception and entry into the Indian market

Pande elaborated on Popeyes’ brand journey in India, noting its inception just over 2 years ago with the opening of its inaugural store in Bangalore. The response, characterised by both a fondness for the cuisine and an overall positive experience, was remarkably enthusiastic. Popeyes in the US is now a 50 plus year old brand globally with over 4,600+ stores. It launched its first store in 1972 and celebrated its 50th year of operation in 2022.

“Whether it was a dine-in experience or an in-home delivery experience, people loved the overall experience of having a meal from Popeyes. Right from the day Popeyes launched in India, our delivery ecosystem was activated and could be accessed through the Popeyes mobile app. The one thing that we ensured right from the beginning is that the brand was an omni channel which led to very positive feedback across all channels leading us to believe that the best way forward was to expand our presence in Bangalore before trying to open in other cities,” he said.

Furthermore he went on to say that the customer feedback from their stores in Bangalore encouraged them to consider and expand their presence into other Southern cities like Chennai, Manipal, Mangalore, Coimbatore, Madurai, Cuddalore and Hyderabad, where they currently have one store.

“With our presence now firmly established in South India, it was time to address the requests of chicken aficionados in cities in North India. As a brand, despite being a runaway success in Bangalore, Popeyes continued to expand across southern cities. This was simply because it made economic sense to utilise the supply chain that was set up to supply fresh and chemical-free chicken to the customers in cities in the South of India. All the food that is served across every Popeyes store in India is made from fresh antibiotic-free chicken, sourced from local farms, and processed in what we call our central commissaries. Using fresh chicken instead of frozen chicken has a big impact on the end flavour and experience of the product, which therefore necessitates the building of supply chain capability,” Panse mentioned.

“Today, we have successfully built our supply chain capability across both the South and North. Popeyes has expanded its presence with a significant number of stores across the South and is now growing at a rapid pace across the North in cities like Delhi NCR and Chandigarh. The long-term plan for the brand is to expand in each city it enters into which today has resulted in over 42 stores in just a little more than 2 years of time,” he added.

Popeyes’ focus as a brand is to continue to evolve and grow over the next two to three years culminating into becoming a national brand with a presence across all the metros, and large cities.

“In the last quarter alone, we have expanded to new states like Kerala making Popeyes now present in 15 cities nationally. The blueprint that we have laid out is focused on the brand becoming a Rs 1,000 crore brand in the country over the next 4-5 years,” Pande said.

Moreover, he stated that the brand strategy for Popeyes is to focus on expanding at a very fast pace in the months to come. The wave-like expansion of the brand presence that is currently being witnessed in the South is also being mirrored in the North.

Delving further into the brand’s origins, Pande mentioned that Popeyes started its first store in the city of New Orleans in the state of Louisiana, known to be a melting pot of cultures. Over the years, Louisiana has seen a significant influx of people coming in from West Africa, France, and many other countries etc. So, it was only a matter of time before habits, culture, cooking styles and cuisines meshed together beautifully which have been preserved in a number of gastronomic museums across the state of Louisiana.

People of West Africa and France blended their cuisines together which gave birth to both Cajun and Creole cuisines and culture. Even today, Louisiana is synonymous with Cajun culture and cuisine, and this is where Popeyes started its long-storied history. As a flavour, Cajun is distinct and bold which forms the very foundation of the Popeyes brand.

Challenges met in the Indian market entry

Discussing the primary hurdles Popeyes encountered when entering the Indian market, Pande said, “The onset of Covid-19 changed the world as we knew it. As we were limping our way back to normalcy post the Delta Wave, Omicron showed to bring things to a halt all over again. Popeyes launched in India when Omicron was at its peak so the challenges that the brand faced as it entered the Indian market was more in the context of time. We opened our first store in Bengaluru when we all were operating from home.”

He mentioned that with Omicron at its peak in the country, they were concerned they would be able to draw customers to the store on Day 1 of India’s first Popeyes store, in Bangalore.

“The biggest challenge that Popeyes faced even if you take Covid-19 out of the context, barring a few who had tasted the world-famous Cajun style sandwiches and other food in their travels overseas, the brand was unknown and for most unheard of. The brand clarity and salience for Popeyes in India was, therefore, really low as it was an entirely new entrant into the fast-growing Indian QSR sector. So, the biggest marketing challenges were: How do you make people aware of a brand like Popeyes? When Popeyes launched its first store, as marketers, how to make people aware of the entire richness and legacy of the brand and what it stands for?” he said.

“However, in the build up to the launch phase, our research and due diligence showed that there existed a vast opportunity to tap into what was an extremely under-serviced category. A fact that stood out glaringly was the lack of innovation and differentiation in the sector. As a brand, Popeyes viewed this as an opportunity to offer consumers a new product that was fresh, flavourful, famous and safe to consume. Consumers responded favourably to our menu, new and customised products for the Indian customer instantly,” he added.

Choosing Chandni Chowk as starting point for North Indian market

Pande said, “We had a choice of many locations when we were entering North India. As we went back and forth on what would be an ideal location to launch in Delhi NCR, Chandni Chowk stood out for its wide range of food offerings. Moreover, just like New Orleans where the Popeyes story started, Chandni Chowk is also a melting pot of cultures and cuisines.”

“Also, the city of Delhi is popularly known as “Dilwalo ki Dilli” and geographically the heart or the centre of Delhi NCR just happened to be the area of Chandni Chowk. With the brand all about reaching out to customers, sharing love, happiness and great tasting food, the synchronicity was obvious. We felt that all the reasons pointed towards Chandni Chowk being selected as the location for the first Popeyes store in Delhi NCR with the area representing the brand ethos of great food, cultural diversity and being the heart of Delhi,” he added.

Advertising and marketing strategy

Pande emphasised that the communication idea was very simple. As they began expanding to other cities, they shared content on their social media platforms to highlight each new location.

“For the last two years, this always brought in the same questions, when Popeyes was planning on opening a store in their home city? To showcase the love and appreciation and as a token of our gratitude, we used real comments and messages from our fans which were in multiple languages as content for our social media marketing campaign at the time of our Delhi launch,” he said.

“One of the touch points which we felt would garner the highest number of eyeballs was inside the Delhi Metro and so the posters that were placed inside the trains were real tweets and conversations happening on Instagram and X. The campaign that we ran in Delhi during the build up to and after the launch of the store in Chandni Chowk was one where the content came from real people. Not only did we highlight the social media content, but we started framing and posting funny responses to some of them, focusing on the brand recall,” he added.

Speaking about the media mix, Pande stated that the media mix and ad spends vary and depend on each city and the locality chosen in that city. Popeyes as a brand focuses mostly on hyperlocal marketing and designs the media mix for each city and store, separately. Hence, the media mix used in a city like Bangalore will be very different to the media mix used in Delhi.

“To state a point, in Delhi, we did advertising in the Delhi Metro (trains) along with being present in one or two outdoor spots outside Omaxe Mall (Chandni Chowk), where the store is located. Instead of doing a lot of outdoor activities, the brand increased visibility in mall locations with a healthy mix of advertisements in prominent and popular newspapers as well. Last but not the least, targeted and performance marketing was done across digital platforms which as is well known is part of the media mix irrespective of the cities and launch locations,” he added.

Furthermore, he mentioned that Popeyes has partnered with Dentsu Webchutney, to drive its social and digital mandate. As they are part of the Jubilant Foodworks brands portfolio, the media responsibilities for Popeyes like the other brands is carried out by Mindshare.

“It is important to note that as a brand, most of the media spends are geared towards digital marketing, the planning for which is done in-house,” he mentioned.

On being asked how is premiumization becoming a driving force in the growth of food chains like Popeyes, Pande emphasised that consumers opting to eat at or order from a QSR brand are looking for safe, tasty, fresh and flavourful food that is value for money.

“As a brand, we focus on doing just that, providing products that are safe to eat and are value for money. Products like the bone-in-chicken is available for Rs 109 and is generally sold in either a plate of 2 or 4 pieces. The customised and hugely popular Hot and Messy is available for Rs 129 and according to our customers are both great value for money. Thus, the degree of premiumization is only a few percentage points because globally, QSR stands for more convenience and quick service rather than a relaxed and premium experience,” he added.

Navigating the competitive landscape

Pande said, “I really don’t think of competition as a challenge. As a brand, we focus our efforts more on listening to what our customers want and how we can fulfil those wants through constantly looking to innovate and offer them great tasting food and a memorable overall experience. Serving our customers by providing a great all-round experience will go a long way in reaping the rewards over the long run if we can offer a solution to their needs.”

“I am confident in saying that in a market like India, everyone will grow but brands which pay close attention to addressing the needs and wants of their consumers will grow faster than the rest of the brands,” he added.

Pande highlighted that their USP is that they focus on providing high quality and tasty food that is safe to consume.

Interested in getting all the latest news from the world of Marketing, Advertising and Startups? Subscribe to our Scoop by Marketing Mind newsletter so that you don’t miss any updates.

Related Posts