'Well, blow me down!' Popeye is out at Popeyes

It's not very likely that you associate Popeye the Sailor Man with spicy Cajun chicken. For that matter, when's the last time you gave any thought to that 84-year-old cartoon icon?

For those reasons and more, the fast-food restaurant chain called Popeyes is parting ways with the spinach-chomping sailor named Popeye, who's been an occasional pitchman for the company over the past 35 years.

"As the brand shifted its focus to more of its Louisiana heritage, there just wasn't any alignment with the cartoon character," explains Alicia Thompson, a spokeswoman for AFC Enterprises, the parent firm of Popeyes.

The Atlanta-based company had been paying around $1.1 million annually to the character's owner, King Features Syndicate, but the restaurant chain says it has been phasing out its use of Popeye's image for several years. Most recently, the character had been employed to promote the company's outlets in Puerto Rico and in international markets, including the Middle East.  

Aaron Allen, a restaurant industry consultant, says it's a wise move for the chain to focus on its food. "They'd be better off to educate the consumer on 'What is Cajun chicken' versus 'What is Popeye the cartoon,'" he says.
 
It turns out the name really had nothing to do with the famous sailor, anyway: The company's spokeswoman says it was based on Gene Hackman's role in "The French Connection." The movie had been popular around the time founder Al Copeland launched his first restaurant near New Orleans in 1972. He was a fan of the film's lead character, a feisty New York detective nicknamed "Popeye" Doyle.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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