Popeyes ditches ex-spinach-eating pitchman

Popeyes, the fast-food restaurant known for its chicken, and Popeye, the 1930s cartoon sailor known for his love of spinach, are going their separate ways.

Atlanta-based Popeyes said it has reached an agreement that will end its 35-year-old relationship with the comic character’s owner King Features Syndicate Division, a part of Hearst Holdings Inc.

Specific details on the deal were not released.

The break-up comes after Popeyes asked a federal court judge to terminate the contract with King, which had automatically renewed each year, Popeyes spokeswoman Alicia Thompson said. Popeyes was paying King Features about $1.1 million annually, but was only using the comic characters in international markets, including Puerto Rico and the Middle East.

Thompson said the company’s name was taken from a character in the movie, “The French Connection,” and was not part of the contract with King.

Popeye, his sweetheart Olive Oyl and their assorted friends were used as part of the chain’s marketing in the years after the company’s founding in the 1970s at a time when rival McDonald’s was promoted by characters Ronald McDonald and the Hamburglar.

“For over 35 years AFC and King Features have had a mutually beneficial licensing agreement that has led to immense growth of our businesses,” T.R. Shepard, president of King Features Syndicate, said in a statement. AFC Enterprises Inc. is the franchisor and operator of Popeyes restaurants. ”I am happy that Popeye the character has been so instrumental to Popeyes the restaurant chain, and we wish them continued success in the future.”