US fast food giant eyes a bite of UK burger boom: Iconic Wendy’s chain plans major launch to cash in on Britain’s rising hunger for junk
US burger giant Wendy’s is heading across the Atlantic for an assault on Britain’s fast food market that could see it open hundreds of outlets.
The company has told its investors it aims to open the first UK restaurant as early as next year and has already begun an extensive search for sites and franchise partners.
Its arrival will act as a foot in the door in Europe to allow the company – the world’s third largest burger chain after McDonald’s and Burger King – to take on the Continent.
Heading to the UK: US burger giant Wendy’s is heading across the Atlantic for an assault on Britain’s fast food market that could see it open hundreds of outlets
The plan is likely to cause a stir amid warnings that Britain’s obesity crisis is out of control.
Earlier this month Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, said in her final report as she stepped down from her role: ‘Today’s children are drowning in a flood of unhealthy food and drink options, compounded by insufficient opportunities for being active.’
The news of Wendy’s plans has emerged after a string of high street restaurant failures and reorganisations including Jamie’s Italian, Carluccio’s, burger chain Byron, Giraffe and Ed’s Easy Diner. There has also been speculation that Pizza Express may need to close some outlets and renegotiate its debts.
In a transcript of a meeting with investors, obtained by The Mail on Sunday, The Wendy’s Company international director Abigail Pringle said the fast food market in the UK is growing at almost 3 per cent a year, bucking the overall contraction. There is a proliferation of burger and fried chicken outlets on many high streets.
Pringle said: ‘Where the UK has been pulling back is in casual dining – just like we have in the US.
‘But we believe their overall growth in the quick service restaurant segment – and hamburger specifically – is growing and we believe we can be a challenger brand in that market and have great success.
‘The United Kingdom will be our beachhead to European expansion. We believe it is a growing market and it has lots of great growth ahead of it.
Time to eat: The company has told its investors it aims to open the first UK restaurant as early as next year
‘We also know that great American brands have been successful. Burger brands have been unbelievably successful there. But we believe that we can challenge those brands.’
This month another American fast food giant Chick-fil-A opened its first British store amid great controversy over its donations to anti-LGBT groups. However, on Friday it said it would close the outlet – in Reading, Berkshire – following a surge of opposition from gay rights campaigners.
Wendy’s has more than 6,700 outlets in 30 countries around the world including the Americas, Asia and the Middle East.
The company said it wants to open 20 outlets initially in Britain starting in the next 12 to 18 months. It plans to open an international head office and hit major markets on this side of the Atlantic.
Its executives are describing a ‘substantial footprint’ – which implies hundreds of outlets.
It is not the first time the firm has attempted to conquer Britain. It abruptly halted a foray in the 1980s before returning early in the following decade.
Then in 1999 it pulled out after seven years – closing seven outlets mainly in London – after complaining of ‘high real estate and operating costs’. Pringle said this time around the company has been researching the UK market for more than 12 months. She added: ‘We are going there with our eyes wide open and with a lot of insights and preparation.
‘We have done landmark research with thousands of consumers in the UK. We have talked to them and engaged with them and what they think about the Wendy’s brand.’
Wendy’s burgers include a Bacon Jalapeño Triple Cheeseburger, a 1,280-calorie, three-quarter-pound burger topped with pickled jalapeños, smoked bacon, cheese, crispy fried onions, savoury cheese sauce and a smoky jalapeño sauce which it describes as a ‘whole lotta heat to eat’. Another on offer is the S’Awesome Bacon Cheeseburger Triple, at 1,170 calories, which is similar but without the jalapeños.
Bryan Roberts, insights director at industry analyst TCC Global, said: ‘This is such an iconic brand in the States and it is interesting that they’ve decided the UK is going to be one of their key growth markets. The gourmet end of the burger market is under a lot of stress. But McDonald’s is doing very well and Wendy’s obviously feels there is an opportunity.
‘Wendy’s markets its burgers as always fresh beef. Its unique selling point back in the States is that it is never frozen and is locally sourced, so they are aiming at the higher end of the fast food market.
‘It will be interesting to see if they can get a real foothold this time.’