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Innovation fuels risers like Popeyes


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While it remains in the No. 1 spot overall, McDonald’s shows its behemoth status—though not how it would like as the company’s $5 billion-plus sales drop means the sector as a whole saw less than 1 percent growth.

Without the Golden Arches, QSRs were up 3.9 percent, thanks in part to brands such as Domino’s (up 11.2 percent to $9.9 billion) and Chick-fil-A (up 17.4 percent to $6.7 billion).

Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen makes its presence known, adding 160 units and increasing sales 11.7 percent to $3.06 billion. Calling 2015 a “pivotal year of transformation,” Dick Lynch, chief brand officer for the Atlanta-based chain, says the company created a road map for the future based on three factors: its Louisiana heritage, passionate team members and routine excellence—all enabled by an initiative to build a common technology platform for the Popeyes system.

Average unit volumes reached $1.46 million in 2015 and more than 90 percent of new locations opened last year were by “existing franchisees who feel good about the brand and they want to stay with us,” says Lynch.

In the battle for burger domination, Wisconsin-based Culver’s holds its own with another year of double-digit sales growth for the ButterBurger and frozen custard chain.

Revenue jumped 15.5 percent in 2015 to $1.2 billion as the brand added 31 new restaurants including nine in Florida to reach 559 total. CEO Phil Keiser credits a mix of existing and new franchisees who embrace Culver’s owner-operator model of being in their restaurants every day.

“We’re basically a collection of mom-and-pop owners,” he says. “They’ve in some cases bet their life savings on the success of the brand and they work so hard at it.”

With limited marketing dollars for its “Welcome to Delicious” and “Thank You Farmers” campaigns, Culver’s relies heavily on its strong reputation and “enough Midwestern transplants” as it moves into markets outside its Midwest base.

Marco’s Pizza continues cutting into the pie, boosting sales from $149 million to $427 million in five years, a 286 percent increase. Its 23.5 percent sales gain in 2015 moved the pizza delivery and carryout chain up 20 spots to No. 160 overall on our list and company President and COO Bryon Stephens says unit profitability is “first and foremost.” The brand’s AUV is just under $700,000, he says, with online orders emerging as a key sales driver.

“We’ve invested heavily in making sure consumers can order from their phone,” says Stephens, adding that in new markets as much as 50 percent of orders are made online and with $3 average ticket increase. “It’s a battle out there. The competition is formidable. We’ve got to be on our game every day.”

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