Popeyes: Plan for Online Food Sales Is No Turkey

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Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits has become one of the first major restaurant chains besides Domino's Pizza to sell food online. But don't expect any chicken.

Initially eyeing Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter sales, Popeyes began offering turkeys and side orders at popeyes.com last week. The effort is part of Popeyes' new effort to position itself as a leader in Cajun cuisine.

"None of these [items] are served in restaurants right now besides turkeys during the holidays," said Tad Phelps, director of new business development at Popeyes, Atlanta. "All these are special products that we're creating to do online."

The products include a fully cooked Cajun turkey, oyster cornbread dressing, corn casserole, bananas foster bread pudding and sweet potato biscuits.

A full meal for six to eight costs $90.95 for standard two- to four-day delivery, though the turkey itself costs $62.95. The turkey is fried, then flash-frozen before shipment.

Served in most of its 1,450 restaurants in the United States and worldwide, the turkey is part of a push to tap into markets for holiday meals and gifts, corporate gifts and tailgate parties.

Popeyes expects to sell 90,000 turkeys this year, with the Web site alone accounting for 10,000 birds. Turkey sales last year across Popeyes restaurants were 15,000 to 20,000 pieces.

"This is a way to get out to places where we don't have the market penetration that, say, McDonald's does," Phelps said. "It's ... a way for people to get a taste of Popeyes and for transplants who have moved to different places but don't have a Popeyes nearby."

The goal is to offer the turkey as a year-round product, though holiday and religious occasions will result in higher off-take. An expanded Cajun menu and merchandise will roll out in a phased manner.

Part of franchise operator AFC Enterprises, Atlanta, Popeyes last year posted more than $1.2 billion in sales through its Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits and Cajun Kitchen. The recent emphasis on Cajun-style cooking is studied.

"As we change our image, we start standing more for the Cajun way," Phelps said. "Chicken is a staple right now, but if you look at our menu over the past year and a half, it's starting to evolve into more than just chicken."

For instance, Popeyes created a whole new Louisiana Legends line two years ago that included gumbo soups and savory dishes such as etouffee and jambalayas.

To put the spotlight on its new online Cajun menu, Popeyes will focus on two Southern favorites -- tailgate parties and football.

Last week it treated fans at the Atlantic Coast Conference football game between Georgia Tech and the University of Virginia to a free turkey and oyster cornbread meal through a mobile kitchen in a parking lot outside Atlanta's Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Held before kickoff, a similar tailgate party was organized Nov. 4 in Baton Rouge, LA, during the game between Louisiana State University and the University of Alabama. Another round of free turkey and side meal is scheduled for a tailgate party Nov. 18 in Athens, GA, for the University of Georgia vs. University of Mississippi game.

"Right now we're doing counter cards [in restaurants]," Phelps said. "You can also order the turkey in the restaurant. But year-round we don't offer the turkey in the restaurant. We offer it for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but year-round you can ... order it online."

Popeyes.com itself will provide support with e-mail newsletters to consumers interested in news of the brand. An e-mail address and ZIP code box is placed prominently on the site's home page.

The Popeyes.com site will play a key role in building awareness and encouraging trial. Phelps quoted data from WebTrends Corp. showing that Popeyes.com attracted 576,000 hits from 40,063 unique visitors in September.

"Obviously the pure challenge is getting people to order if they don't know anything about Popeyes, and this will be central to the whole marketing campaign," Phelps said.

Phelps stressed that Popeyes' attempts at e-commerce differ from fast-food chains such as Domino's.

"They're not really doing a true e-commerce piece," Phelps said of Domino's site at www.dominos.com. "They're doing an order piece on their Web site," with pizzas prepared in the individual restaurants for same-day delivery, he added.

"We have a fulfillment house in New Orleans that will fulfill orders," Phelps said. "So, it's not like you're getting it from a restaurant around the corner. Our goal here is to offer consumers a home-meal replacement."

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