(Canadian Press)

Chick-fil-A announces plans for Canadian expansion

They’re already in the Calgary airport and want to open 15 new locations over the next five years

A controversial fast food company that is known as much for its role in U.S. politics as it is for its chicken announced Wednesday that it will expand its Canadian presence over the next five years.

Chick-fil-A Inc., which currently has a single Canadian location at Calgary International Airport, said it will open a restaurant in Toronto next year and has plans to establish about 15 locations around the Greater Toronto Area over the next five years.

The Atlanta-based company’s expansion comes as a handful of foreign fast food chains are proving that they’re no chickens when it comes to Canada. In recent years, Filipino brand Jollibee and American chains Five Guys Burger and Fries, the Halal Guys, Wahlburgers and Blaze Pizza have entered the already-crowded Canadian market.

Foreign brands are likely attracted to the country and Toronto because of the large population, international reputation and close proximity to the U.S., said food industry expert Robert Carter, who expects other large companies will watch Chick-fil-A’s expansion to guide whether they should head to Canada too.

“Toronto is considered one of the more multicultural cities in North America, if not the world, so it is a great platform for brands expanding international to test out the Canadian market and then start to fine-tune some of the differences from the U.S. business model,” said Carter.

“Chick-fil-A is a very beloved brand down in the U.S. with strong consumer loyalty and I think some of that brands’s awareness will translate for Canadians as well… When you look at loyalty, it is almost on par with a brand like Tim Hortons in Canada.”

However, Chick-fil-A is unlike most of the homegrown fast-food brands or foreign ones that have come to Canada because it’s known for its religious and conservative values.

The company is owned by the Cathy family, a billionaire evangelical Southern Baptist clan, which attracted plenty of attention in 2012, when its president Dan Cathy said he believes in the “the biblical definition of the family unit” and said those who “have the audacity to define what marriage is about” were “inviting God’s judgment on our nation”.

When the Supreme Court chose to support same-sex marriages in the U.S. a year later, Cathy posted on Twitter that the “founding fathers would be ashamed of our generation” and pronounced it a “sad day for our nation.”

His remarks caused politicians to call for the chain to boycotted, but Carter suspects the furor will be a “non-issue” for Canadians because he said once issues like these “fall out of the consciousness of consumers, it is business as usual.”

He thinks Canadians will find it “curious” if the company sticks to its U.S. policy of keeping its locations closed on Sundays as a way of giving staff time off, but he doesn’t believe it will bother customers too much because he said there are many smaller restaurants that also don’t open that day of the week.

To resonate with Canadian audiences, Carter mused that Chick-fil-A could make some changes to its menu items, perhaps rolling out a coffee program or more breakfast offerings, which have proved to be a boon for McDonald’s and Tim Hortons in Canada.

Breakfast is the fastest-growing part of the day for restaurants since 2012, according to research companies NPD Group and Nielsen, and breakfast sandwiches make up a third of all orders placed during that time of day.

Chick-fil-A will only boost the competition for morning meal dollars in Canada, Carter said, because the company offers a chicken breakfast sandwich, which he hasn’t seen other restaurants in the country roll out.

He also considers Chick-fil-A’s expansion to come at an advantageous time because he has seen chicken recently become a “hot” and “go-to” menu item for Canadians.

Chick-fil-A offers chicken nuggets, wraps and strips at its 2,300 restaurants in the U.S., which collectively brought the company more than $9 billion in revenue in 2017.

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

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