Pollo Campero

Pollo Campero’s efforts to improve its brand image throughout the U.S. have paid off as the company continues to see accelerated growth.

Pollo Campero is averaging eight percent same-store sales growth compounded over the past four years and been called the most millennial-driven concept in the United States today thanks to a number of brand improvements. “I’ve been in the restaurant industry for 30 years and have never been able to put together four years of compounded growth like this,” CEO Tim Pulido says. “We have done a lot: improved our site selection, global image, our menu and focused on new product development. All those things have lead to the turnaround that includes accelerated growth and new store development.”

All of that is a dramatic contrast to the company’s humble roots in 1971, the Gutierrez family opened its first Pollo Campero locations in Guatemala and El Salvador with a desire to serve the best-tasting chicken possible. “It is the largest QSR brand in those two countries today with about 200 locations in both countries,” Pulido notes.

The first Pollo Campero opened in Los Angeles in 2002 and people waited in a line that stretched around the block to enjoy the Latin menu. Because of that store’s success, the company had opened more U.S. stores in various locations. When the recession hit and sales began to decline, Pollo Campero knew it needed to refocus and become more disciplined.

“Pollo Campero was run from Guatemala from the beginning until 2007, and in 2012 the brand underwent a restructure consolidating U.S. and international operations under Pollo Campero International, headquartered in Dallas and Central American operations under the Cnetral American Restaurant Division out of Guatemala City,” Pulido explains. “One of the most important things we did was succeed in developing a global solution for Pollo Campero.”

Pulido joined the company in 2012 as part of its reorganization effort to move the brand into the 21st century and develop its positioning. “Our global brand essence is ‘Always Vibrantly Authentic,’ and we really are a brand that developed its menu, recipes and heritage from Latin America,” he says. “That degree of authenticity is very relevant to today’s users.” Global Branding Pollo Campero launched its new brand image in 2014 after two years of development that continues to ensure it lives up to being “always vibrantly authentic.” “The theme of authenticity is what we hold to as the core of who we are from a brand perspective,” Director of Marketing Federico Valiente says.

The company stayed true to its roots and simplified its U.S. menu to focus on authentic Latin chicken. “It’s not authentic Southern fried chicken; authentic Latin has a different flavor profile and creates a gestalt that our menu hangs around,” Pulido explains. “It has a lighter batter than Southern fried chicken, is very unique and is very different than any other fried chicken in the United States.”

Peruvian citrus grilled chicken and Guatemalan fried chicken are the company’s signature products. Sides include plantains, yucca fries, Campero rice and beans. Customers can wash it all down with horchata, cleansing their palate for flan or four leches for dessert. “Even with our boneless chicken nuggets, we give them our own unique Latin twist,” Valiente adds. “We give them cilantro sauce instead of ranch, for instance. Everything we do has a Latin accent.”

Its Peruvian citrus grilled chicken was launched last spring and Pulido says it was a significant improvement to the menu because it opened the door to better-for-you options. The company also debuted new chicken empanadas late last year, which has been very successful. “We are focused on better-for-you products,” Valiente says. “All our chicken is hormone-free, never frozen and our sides and dipping sauces are made by hand every day. Our empanadas are handmade in the restaurant and offer authentic, unique flavors. These are things that are relevant to the consumer.”

Attracting Consumers
“When we first came to the United States, we were a Central American brand,” Pulido says. “There has been a big demographic change as we began to appeal and attract different demographics. Today, less than 50 percent of our customers are Hispanic. That’s the reason why our sales have been so strong over the past four years. There’s no way the Central American demographic could drive eight percent sales growth for four consecutive years – that’s why it’s so exciting. We’re mainstreaming.”

Technomic, the Chicago-based research and consulting firm, named Pollo Campero as the most millennial-driven concept in the United States today. Pollo Campero has the highest number of millennial consumers of any restaurant brand, Technomic says. “We are well positioned to deliver to two demographic forces: the growing Hispanic segment and the growing millennials,” Pulido says. “Millennials are the engine of the restaurant industry.”

Pollo Campero says its new product launches and technology platform will continue to attract the millennial generation. The company has rebuilt its website to make it more user-friendly by adding an online ordering capability and is working to launch a mobile app. The mobile app is being tested in Dallas and will expand to new markets throughout the year with a system-wide launch planned for fourth-quarter 2016. “There is a lot of consumer interest in placing online orders in Dallas and elsewhere in the country,” Valiente says. “We are making our product more convenient to the customer.”

Site Selection
To help with its new image, Pollo Campero remodeled 93 percent of its corporate stores over the past couple years with new colors and a more modern look. The company will continue to work with franchisees to update their locations. Pollo Campero continues to open new locations in target areas that will draw its two demographics. “The key here is when you are growing a restaurant brand you need to find a way to focus development to get critical mass,” Pulido explains. “A shotgun blast and wildly franchising everywhere will get you in the weeds quickly. What we have done is focus the positioning, product development and development.”

Pollo Campero targets locations where it will gain immediate brand awareness, which is done by targeting the Central American population. The company has narrowed its focus to New Jersey, New York, Washington D.C., and Texas. California remains a franchise market. “We have recognized Central Americans love our brand,” Pulido adds. “The locations are not simply positioned right smack in middle America neighborhoods. We target places Central Americans can easily access our location and where we will be well positioned to attract a general audience.”

Moving forward, Pollo Campero will continue to focus on new product development, thoughtful site selection and its core mission: “Always vibrantly authentic.” Pollo Campero’s parent company, CMI (Corporacion Multi Inversiones), remains committed to growing the brand in the United States. “They are thinking very long-term about the business here,” Pulido notes. “They have given us access to capital and CMI’s support for our business has allowed us to stay in high growth mode.”