It’s an American success story with a bit of a twist: in started in Mexico.
El Pollo Loco started as a roadside chicken stand in Mexico 1975. Five years later, the brand spread to Los Angeles to become a California treasure. 11 years later, they opened their 200th restaurant. Now, El Pollo Loco now operates over 400 stores in five states.
The company took a hit during the recession, but is making a strong comeback. In 2012, El Pollo Loco began aggressively revamping their stores and improving the quality of their food. Many companies might respond to economic hardship by cutting corners, but El Pollo Loco did just the opposite. Instead of using cheaper, pre-packaged guacamole, for instance they rolled out fresh guacamole made from Hass avocados in-store. The store is re-positioning itself from fast-food to the rapidly expanding “fast-casual” model seen by competitors like Chipotle.
The refinancing paved the way for El Pollo Loco to work on revitalizing the brand, and 2012 was dubbed a “year of transformation.” Part of that effort included the development of a new “Hacienda” prototype design, with an open kitchen and grills front and center, so guests could see the handcrafted nature of the grilling process.
And it worked. 2012 saw a 9% increase in sales, and CMO Ed Valle told Restaurant News that 2013 calendar year saw similar gains. 2013 was also the year they grabbed Zeno Group as their new public relations agency. The New York-based marketing communications group is overseeing media relations, social media strategy, corporate social responsibility initiatives, and grand openings for the fire-grilled chicken restaurant chain.
Now, El Pollo Loco is looking to go big with an initial public offering that Wall Street expects to be hugely successful. Reuters reports that the privately-owned company has secured Morgan Stanley and Jefferies Group to lead the offering later this year.
And the company, which is still focusing on expansion in the Southwest United States, hopes to eventually push east, good news for Eastern seaboard fans.
“The move makes El Pollo Loco the latest among several private equity-backed restaurant chains hoping to go public this year amid strong demand by stock market investors hungry for exposure to the fast-growing casual dining sector,” Reuters reports.
The latest El Pollo Loco commercials feature cooks in full chef regalia, not unlike Taco Bell’s “Cantina Bowl” campaign, though El Pollo Loco prides themselves on getting to the healthy grilled-chicken market first. They also feature the slogan “Crazy you can taste.”
In a recent social media campaign, the company solicited fans to create a new slogan in exchange for a free year of chicken dinners. The winner, “Without the flame, it ain’t the same,” beat out 800 other entries and will be emblazoned on El Pollo Loco staff shirts.
So what can marketers learn from El Pollo Loco?
Business isn’t always easy, but great marketing helps pull brands back. The recession was rough on El Pollo Loco, but the company pulled through. How? By doubling down on their commitment to their consumers rolling out even better food and letting the world know about it.