The Trend is a Friend to Filipino QSRs

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

In its food trend predictions, Forbes noted, “(2018) will mark the rise of Filipino cuisine.” Coincidentally or not, Google searches for Filipino food have doubled since 2012.

The Specialty Food Association’s Trendspotter Panels said that the prominence of the Filipino food trend is due to American palates becoming “more sophisticated and attuned to the complex flavors and bitter or sour notes of Filipino dishes.”

None of this is news to Henry Cruz, the finance manager for three Filipino brands—Jollibee, Red Ribbon and Chow King. To the uninitiated, Jollibee is a market force in the Philippines and throughout Asia with thousands of outlets, and is fast becoming a phenomenon as it rolls out in North America.

Customers stood in line for up to 10 hours ahead of the first Midwest opening in Skokie, Il, a demographically diverse suburban enclave north of Chicago. According to Eater Chicago, 5,000 people were served on opening day, 500 were lined up before the doors opened and the first car parked in the drive-through at 5:30 a.m. And while it is not unusual to have customers camp out the night before an opening, or for the company to alert local police ahead of the expected throngs, the growth presented problems.

For a while, the company struggled with PCI compliance, with one credit card company instituting a $5,000 monthly fine.

“We needed to act fast,” said Cruz.

The company was working with a large bank and another large processor. The compliance process alone was projected to take three to seven years. Then it’s POS provider mentioned Heartland. The Merchant Bill of Rights, designed by Heartland to encourage transparency and service to all aspects of card processing, sealed the deal.

“We were really hesitant,” said Cruz. “But we were persuaded. They provided proof of concept in one or two stores, and we ended getting the two companies together on the spot.”

The Merchant Bill of Rights provides exactly what Cruz needed: transparency, security, 24-hour service and reasonable rates.

“These days what is promised during the presentation isn’t always what is done,” said Cruz. “When the implementation comes, companies have to pay additional for what was initially promised. Heartland didn’t do that. They reacted to issues, and everything is there online – merchant billing, settlements, the details, it’s all there. Talk about transparency. Thanks to Heartland we are now about 95 percent compliant.”

The organization is the No. 1 QSR in Asia and wants to be among the top 10 in market capitalization by 2023, and among the top 5 by 2028. It also owns 85 percent of Smashburger, which has outlets in 32 U.S. states and five countries.

One long-term dream of ownership will be realized in April when Jollibee’s opens in New York’s Times Square. Like recent openings throughout North America, the crowd is expected to be enormous.

“People who are familiar with Jollibee have been craving it for years,” said Cruz. “It’s heartwarming to see the response and to hear the stories.”