Wednesday, April 23, 2008



Pinoy food chain a big hit in Indonesia

Chowking logo

If brands like McDonalds and Starbucks can make it big in the Philippines, there is no reason why Filipino companies can't find similar success in other countries.

This is the philosophy behind the aggressive moves of a growing number of local firms to make serious inroads in foreign markets.

One of these is Chowking, the market leader in the Chinese food segment of the quick service restaurant business and a unit of the Jollibee group of companies.

It put up its first branch outside the Philippines in West Covina, United States in 1997. Since then, the network has grown to 12 in the United States, seven in the United Arab Emirates and five in Indonesia.

Four of these were opened just last month--Las Vegas, Abu Dhabi, Kelapa Gading and Karawaci in Jakarta.

Chowking chief executive officer Rafael Dela Rosa says that by the end of the year, Chowking will have six branches in Indonesia, eight in the United Arab Emirates and 13 in the United States, complementing Chowking's local branch network, which has reached 367 as of end-May.

"We are looking to add about six more branches in Indonesia, the Middle East and the United States in the near term," he says.

Chowking is pursuing the expansion of its branches in these countries while preparing to eventually penetrate the massive market of India.

Dela Rosa says going into foreign markets takes more than just putting up a replica of local branches, successful as they are in bringing in customers.

Before the branch in Indonesia was set up, for instance, two years were spent on research and kitchen tests to give Chowking a better idea of what the market wanted.

What's good for Filipinos is not always good for the Indonesians who prefer more spicy food.

Chowking in Indonesia, thus, serves its Chicken Supreme with the Indonesians' traditional sambal sauce. The mixed rice and mami dishes also have a different taste profile to suit the Indonesians' preference.

Chowking dimsum

And because Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, Chowking's chopsuey has fish balls instead of pork.

The Indonesians also preferred to have their noodles served separately from the soup stock, not like in the Philippines where the noodles and soup are eaten from just one bowl.

"These are the changes that are dictated by the culture and we have to be sensitive to that," Dela Rosa says.

Dela Rosa says the changes were not limited to just the menu. Small but significant modifications were also done to the look and feel of the store.

In Indonesia, for example, Chowking did away with the bright lights and the plastic chairs because the Indonesians considered Chowking more as a casual dining restaurant and not a fast food joint.

So the Chowking branches there feature faux leather seats, warm lights and more seats were placed near the walls because the Indonesians valued privacy.

Dela Rosa says the plan is to make international operations account for half of Chowking's total sales in five years, and then exceed the sales of the local network in 10 years, with Chowking ending up one of top two players in the Chinese quick service restaurant segment in each market.

If the plan falls into place, it may not take too long before the rest of the world literally get a taste of what the Philippines can offer.