Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Popeyes' parent seeks court help with founder's co.

Col. Harland Sanders would probably be comforted to learn his fast-food brainchild, KFC, recently built a sturdier vault to safeguard the formula of herbs and spices he concocted to give the chicken a distinctive taste. Over at the rival Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen chain, dealings with the founder's legacy aren't going nearly as well.

Popeyes' current parent, AFC Enterprises, asked a court today to arbitrate a dispute between the company and the concern that supplies the spices for the Cajun-style chicken that sets the chain apart. The spice mix is supplied by Diversified Foods & Seasonings, a concern started and overseen by Popeyes founder Al Copeland until his death last year. AFC contends that Diversified is charging too much for the peppery blend that gives Popeyes' chicken its kick.

AFC is also seeking a declaration from the court that the franchisor has the right to determine if the spice blend should be changed for regulatory, nutritional or economic reasons. IIf the court grants the declaratory judgement, Diversified couldn't cheapen the mix without AFC's okay. Or, coming at it from the other direction, AFC could determine if some cost should come out of the spicing.

What's more intriguing is the stipulation that AFC has a say over nutritional or regulatory-related changes in the recipe. New York City is pressing fast-food chains voluntarily to cut the salt in their recipes. If they don't go along, they'll likely be hit by a a government mandate to reduce the sodium. Is AFC setting the groundwork to comply with NYC's demand, or a similar insistence from jurisdictions that follow Gotham's ead?

AFC and various Al Copeland proxies have often been at odds. Indeed, AFC came into being in large part to distance Copeland from his chain and another fried chicken chain he acquired back in the 1980s, Church's. The purchase remains one of the strangest foodservice deals ever. Popeyes and Church's were direct competitors, had largely overlapping markets, and showed every indication of being incompatible siblings. What prompted Copeland to even consider such a deal? Many, many observers suggested it was a function of ego.

He ended up losing so much money that he was forced to step away from the two-concept company. However, he continued to supply spices and foods to Popeyes, even as he dabbled with other restaurant concepts, including the Copeland's dinnerhouse chain.

Diversified had yet to issue any public comment on the matter as of this posting. The court request was filed by AFC roughly at the end of the business day.

"While awaiting the decision of the court and the arbitrator, it is business as usual at Popeyes," said AFC CEO Cheryl Bachelder said.

No comments: