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Making It In America: International Chicken Chains Bring The Heat

Bracha Arnold
December 26, 2023
Making It In America: International Chicken Chains Bring The Heat

Americans love chicken, consuming roughly 96.4 pounds yearly per capita. The ‘Chicken Wars’ of 2019 sparked a renewed interest in the bird, and restaurants specializing in chicken-based dishes began to see upticks in their foot traffic.

We explore the visitation data for three international chicken-centric restaurant chains that have made the move into the U.S. market to see what sets these restaurants apart from the rest of the clucking crowd.

Busan To Boston: Bonchon Chicken Comes Stateside

The past few years have seen a rise in all things South Korea. Korean movies have won Oscars, bands like BTS and Blackpink have headlined major music festivals, and Korean beauty counters have become staples at retailers like Sephora. And in 2006, Bonchon Chicken also came to the U.S., bringing its signature fried chicken stateside. The chain operates over 100 locations and has been enjoying elevated visits every quarter compared to last year, finishing Q3 2023 with 10.4% more foot traffic than in Q3 2022.

And diving into the demographic and psychographic data reveals the chain’s strong family appeal. Analyzing visitors to the chain using the Personalive dataset shows that family households in Bonchon’’s captured market* are overrepresented compared to their share in the chain’s potential market.

Meanwhile,“Young Professionals” – although still making up 12.3% of Bonchon’s captured market – were underrepresented relative to its potential market – indicating that family households seem particularly receptive to the chain’s double-fried chicken. As the chain continues to increase its presence nationwide, focusing on its family audience can help Bonchon solidify its position in the competitive chicken scene.

*A business’ potential market refers to its trade area, with each census block in the trade area weighted according to the size of its population. On the other hand, a business’s captured market refers to the trade area with each census block weighted according to its share of visits to the chain or venue in question. So when the share of a segment is larger – or smaller – in a chain’s captured market than it is in the chain’s potential, that means that the chain attracts more – or less – of that segment than would be expected simply from looking at the chain’s geographic trade area.

From Manila To Main Street

Jollibee, the largest fast-food chain in the Philippines, is making inroads in the North American dining scene after making its U.S. debut in 1998. The chain was crowned “Best Fried Chicken Chain” by and is known for its extra-crispy chicken and dedicated fan base – store openings are often met with lines wrapping around the block.

Jollibee hopes to eventually operate 500 stores in North America over the next five years. (The chain has not specified how many will be in the United States.) Examining visits to the chain highlights that the company is in a solid place for its expansion plans. Jollibee grew from 66 locations in Q3 2022 to 72 by the end of Q4 2023, and its foot traffic remained elevated year-over-year (YoY) for all months analyzed.

A Taste of Guatemala

Pollo Campero, while a relatively small brand in the U.S. chicken scene, is so popular in its home country of Guatemala that flights from Guatemala City regularly smell like its fried chicken. The chain entered the U.S. market in 2002, and its first store was a huge success. Since then, the brand has grown into 77 locations across the country, many franchise-owned.

Pollo Campero has enjoyed strong visit growth over the past few years, and its success  is particularly notable when comparing the chain to chicken-centric restaurants. Examining monthly visits from a November 2019 baseline reveals that, while Pollo Campero visits began to trend steadily in an upward direction as Coronavirus restrictions loosened, overall chicken restaurants struggled to bounce back beyond a November 2019 baseline.

Now, with several years of strong visitation patterns under its belt, the company is turning its focus to its expansion plans, hoping to open up to 250 stores across the country over the next few years.  

The Cluck Stops Here

Chicken is universally loved and the success of the three international chains proves there is plenty of room within the dining space for something unique and different. As each chain continues to add stores to their fleets, will they maintain their visit strength?

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