If you’ve been the the Philippines, you know about Jollibee.
The burger chain is ubiquitous in the country, where there are 890 locations selling Filipino takes on American classics, like fried chicken, burgers with pineapple rings, and sweet spaghetti topped with ham and sausage.
The chain’s unique variations on fast-food offerings have helped Jollibee defeat much larger competition in the Philippines in the last four decades. Notably, despite McDonald’s opening its first location in the Philippines in 1981, Jollibee still manages to far outsell its rival, reports the Economist.
Call it a home-team advantage — founder Tony Tan Caktiong simply understands what Filipino customers want better than McDonald’s.
In the 1970s, Tan opened two ice cream parlors in Manila that would evolve into the Jollibee Foods empire that today has more than 3,000 locations worldwide.
Items like sweet spaghetti (which the company calls “uniquely Jollibee”) may not entice most Americans, but the sweet-and-salty mix is exactly with Filipino customers crave. Eventually, as it became clear that Filipino customers wanted something other than classic American flavours, even McDonald’s had to concede and add options like rice and spaghetti to the menu in the region.
Plus, Tan realises the value of presenting Jollibee as a family-run, local chain that customers can trust — unlike the foreign chains attempting to expand in the country.
“All Filipinos love Jollibee because we feel like we are at home,” Lyn Mina, a domestic helper in Hong Kong, told Forbes Asia in 2013. “Jollibee can do what other food chains can do, franchise to other countries. It means that Filipinos can make their name [around the world].”
Of course, there are people who crave Jollibee outside of the Philippines. The chain has a dedicated fans around the world, many of them Filipino immigrants. As a result, Jollibee locations have popped up in areas such as Hawaii and parts of California that have become hotspots for Filipino communities. New Jollibee locations are planned in countries such as Britain, Italy, and Canada in 2016.
However, if the company wants to actually dominate the international world of fast food, it is going to have to open restaurants that serve things other than spam sandwiches and frozen treat halo-halo.
Tan realises that diversification is necessary if Jollibee is going to reach its goal of becoming one of the five most valuable fast food operators. Jollibee Foods has purchased chains including pizza-and-pasta concept Greenwich and Chinese-style Chowking, paid $100,000 for a 40% stake in American burger chain Smashburger, and has committed to opening at least 1,400 Dunkin’ Doughnuts locations in China in the next 20 years.
Tan wants the company’s foreign business to make up half of the company’s revenue, reports the Economist. So, everything from doughnuts to dumpling will be on the menu in the coming years at the company that made its name selling sweet spaghetti and fried chicken.
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