UPDATE: Oct. 18, 2019: Chick-fil-A's first U.K. location, which opened in the Oracle shopping center in Reading, England, eight days ago, will not be allowed to extend its lease beyond its six-month trial, according to BBC News. The shopping center said in a statement that not renewing the lease "was the right thing to do" following pressure from local gay rights groups.
- Chick-fil-A opened a pilot licensed location on Thursday in Reading, England, according to Business Insider. It previously tested the U.K. market with a popup location.
- "This location will help us understand more about consumer interest in our brand and signature menu items," a spokesperson told Business Insider.
- The company is now in three countries after opening up in Toronto, Canada, earlier this year. It also plans to add at least 15 locations in Toronto within the next five years.
The aftermath of Chick-fil-A's anti-LGBTQ donations have followed it across the pond.
While Chick-fil-A has been widely popular in the U.S. and has scored high in customer service and food quality, its reputation and negative media attention about company contributions to groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army is souring its perception abroad. This doesn't come as a big surprise — the chain already received some backlash in a handful of U.S. cities that have tried to block future development plans.
It is interesting, however, that host retailer Oracle pumped the brakes on potential lease extensions just over a week after Chick-fil-A's opening. The shopping center hasn't even had enough time to see how much money and foot traffic the restaurant could attract. The move signals a growing shift toward prioritizing company and consumer values over potential revenue opportunities. Whether or not the Oracle sticks to this decision once the dust settles over the course of the six-month trial, however, remains to be seen.
The U.K. isn't Chick-fil-A's only international market. The brand debuted in Toronto earlier this year, and plans to add 15 more stores across Canada over the next five years.
If the chain is able to put down roots in the U.K. despite this initial backlash, it could be problematic for QSR counterparts that have been mainstays in the market., including McDonald’s and KFC. KFC grew same-store sales by 18% year-to-date in the country so far this year. McDonald’s U.K., which has over 1,200 restaurants in the country, has had 53 consecutive quarters of same store sales growth as of Q2 2019 and was one of the key contributors for the company’s international operated segment, which grew 6.6% during the quarter.
It would also see new competition, with Wendy’s planning to head to the U.K. within the next 12 to 18 months as part of its first phase of its international expansion, executives said during Thursday’s Investor Day presentation. Tim Hortons, Five Guys, Krispy Kreme and Denny’s have also had success in this market.
Oracle's decision is certainly a stumbling block for Chick-fil-A's European entry. But the real question is whether or not this makes the chain press pause on its U.K. expansion plans, or stokes area distrust of the chain. Still, the restaurant has continued to grow at an explosive rate in the U.S. despite outcry over its spending habits, so the sky may not be falling in the U.K.