How Pollo Campero Created an Internationally Renowned Chicken Franchise

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Fast-casual chicken franchise Pollo Campero*, the world’s largest Central American chicken chain, has already proven itself a power player in the international foodservice industry, establishing more than 270 locations in markets around the world, plus another 80 domestically. Since starting in Guatemala in 1971 and launching in the U.S. 18 years ago, Pollo Campero has proven its concept works, and demand for its food — namely, chicken — is greater than ever. Now, the brand is embarking on its most ambitious growth strategy in the franchise’s history, aiming to open 250 restaurants across the U.S. within the next four years and solidifying its position as a dominant brand in the $40.6 billion chicken franchise segment.

Luis Javier Rodas, Pollo Campero’s Managing Director and COO, is one of the leaders helping guide the brand’s U.S. growth. 1851 Franchise spoke with Rodas to learn more about Pollo Campero’s well-positioned business model, plans for the future and more.

Big News from Last Year

While the Pollo Campero brand has been in the U.S. for almost two decades, Rodas says this past year has been a banner year for the concept. Pollo Campero has seen record-breaking sales increases over the past few years as chicken concepts become more popular than ever and more and more consumers are introduced to the brand’s unique menu and delicious offerings.

“From a revenue standpoint, the past year has been amazing,” said Rodas. “We have seen a year-over-year growth rate of close to 20%. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, Pollo Campero continued to do well, but most of our sales were happening off-premises. Part of our goal is to pamper guests for dine-in, but that was closed for many months. Now that it is open again, we are seeing more customers coming in than ever, and the sales reflect that.”

In addition to revenue growth, Pollo Campero also spent the last year gearing up for renewed expansion, Rodas says, signing 18 leases in 2021 alone. “We had paused development for a while but decided to restart last year,” he said. “We are in the process of getting those restaurants open now. We also opened up quite a few ghost kitchens. All in all, this has been a major year for Pollo Campero.”

Why the Chicken Segment is Primed for Growth

Chicken is big business right now. According to the National Chicken Council, nine out of every 10 customers purchase chicken regularly, and every year, Americans consume more than 65 billion chickens. Consumer Affairs reported in an article titled, “Chicken Envy is Alive and Well in the Fast Food Industry,” that chicken franchises are not only growing faster than other concepts like burgers and pizza, but they also offer a far more stable investment.

“The whole chicken industry is very hot right now,” said Rodas. “It is showtime for chicken. There are a couple of reasons for this. For one, customers feel they are eating much healthier when eating chicken versus pizza or a hamburger. Also, they know what they are getting — with other meats, they aren’t sure if it is 100% beef or pork. On top of that, there are so many ways to prepare chicken — on the bone, nuggets, filet, salads. That gives you more options, leading to higher consumption.”

And as chicken franchise brands boom in the U.S., Rodas says the Pollo Campero concept offers franchisees an opportunity to tap into a proven menu unlike anything else in the category. Pollo Campero has curated a devoted fan base by celebrating diversity and the beauty of melding tastes by offering a melting pot of Latin American and U.S. flavors, including everything from classic fried chicken and empanadas to corn salad and sweet plantains.

“Once a customer tries our fried chicken, they are fans for life,” said Rodas. “There is nothing like us anywhere. And that includes the whole menu — we have a very unique offering: fried beans, pork, rice. You don’t find empanadas at many QSR chicken places in the U.S. We also have fresh Latin American drinks that are very unique.”

How Pollo Campero Stands Out as a Franchise Opportunity

While the QSR chicken segment has proved to be pandemic-proof in markets all over the country, not all chicken franchise brands are created equal. Few brands have the legacy, flavor profile, built-in customer base and proven ability to easily enter new markets like Pollo Campero, Rodas says. Pollo Campero’s long history of success both in the U.S. and abroad is due largely to the quality of its offerings, which distinguish the brand markedly from other chicken concepts.

In 2019, at the height of the so-called Chicken Sandwich Wars that dominated the foodservice franchise landscape, Thrillist published an article titled “Why You Need to Go to Pollo Campero, the KFC of Latin America,” encouraging foodies to skip the ubiquitous fried chicken sandwich offerings in favor of Pollo Campero’s “juicy, juicy, juicy” meat and the “perfectly spiced and crispy” chicken skin, saying the concept had the potential to “influence the greater culinary landscape in the U.S. to the point where it gets woven into the very fabric of what we call American food.”

Since then, Pollo Campero’s popularity has only grown, both domestically and abroad. Now, the brand’s exceptional brand recognition from consumers with ties to Latin America — and its flavor accessibility to those without — is a strong differentiator as the franchise ramps up in the U.S., where Hispanic people are projected to reach 30% of the total population by 2050.

The Pollo Campero team is looking to expand that established fan base by growing in concentric circles around its successful markets.

“We have legacy customers — Latin American customers who know the brand from our international footprint — in markets all over the country, and those were the markets we traditionally focused on,” Director of Franchise Development Blas Escarcega said. “Now, what has happened is that we’ve expanded that legacy customer base and realized that the brand has legs to reach more mainstream consumers in the U.S. We want to maintain the legacy piece while also bringing the opportunity to new customers and leveraging our supply chain to develop around the existing markets that we have.”

The Investment

Over the past few years, Pollo Campero has optimized its business model, innovated the menu and expanded its support infrastructure to ensure franchisees can carve out a lucrative niche and satisfy the demand for delicious chicken in markets. For the initial investments of $887,250 to $2,126,500*, Rodas says Pollo Campero franchisees can tap into a system with $2.4 million AUVs, markedly higher than many other chicken concepts.

“We have a very solid concept that is only growing,” said Rodas. “Our average unit volume is amazing, especially for an industry like chicken. On top of that, we continue to innovate, roll out new products and perfect the store model. In every blind test against competitors, we are always the winner.”

The Pollo Campero team is also heavily dedicated to the ongoing success of franchise owners, offering support in everything from real estate site selection, marketing assistance, an in-depth training program, a robust technology platform and more. With all of this support, Pollo Campero franchisees don’t need to have prior business ownership experience — they can rely on a comprehensive training and support platform based on decades of experience opening hundreds of locations worldwide.

“The brand has been experiencing same-store sales growth the last four years, which is really due to our focus on service, our new business model — which has been extremely profitable for all of us — and the fact that when a customer puts our food in their mouth, they love it,” said  Escarcega. “There’s a passion behind this brand. The restaurants in the United States are performing very well, and we’ve taken great care to build a team capable of supporting the level of franchise investment necessary to grow the brand.”

Why the Leadership Team More Excited Than Ever

Looking ahead, Pollo Campero’s development team is actively seeking new franchise partners in markets across the country to leverage the brand’s proven, scalable model to reach more customers and increase its already-outsized share of the massive — and growing — chicken segment.

“The past few years have been incredible for Pollo Campero, and we’ve been grateful to have the ongoing support of our fans,” said Rodas. “Now, as we move forward with a strategic growth mindset and look to hit 100 units by next year and 250 by the end of 2026, we are eager to bring Pollo Campero to more communities by partnering with qualified franchisees who can build locally owned businesses they can be proud of. We’re not going to be hasty — we’re going to grow in a smart way, keeping true to our vision and our strategy by franchising with the right entrepreneurs. In time, there will be 1,000 Pollo Campero locations across the United States, but we have to keep growing strategically and embracing each market we expand into.”

Overall, Pollo Campero has 10 restaurants expected to open in 2022. In June, the brand hopes to open three corporate-owned stores in California, followed by two franchise stores in the Carolinas before the end of the year. The brand also has developing restaurants in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arizona, North Florida and Las Vegas.

As Pollo Campero reaches new heights, Rodas says it has been particularly rewarding to watch the brand expand in the U.S. “It has been so great to see a brand coming from Guatemala succeed in a market as big and different as the United States,” he said. “2022 is looking bright for Pollo Campero, and there has never been a better time to join our growing brand.” (https://1851franchise.com/how-pollo-campero-created-an-internationally-renowned-chicken-franchise-2718937#stories)

For more information, visit https://camperofranchise.com/.

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