Chicken company teams with Wal-Mart

May 12, 2008 8:31:23 AM PDT
Pollo Campero, a Latin American fried-chicken favorite that had been seen in the U.S. only in takeout boxes aboard arriving flights, has teamed up with Wal-Mart to expand its reach to the nation's growing Hispanic population.A restaurant bearing the Guatemalan chain's mascot chicken in a cowboy hat now sells its famed product inside a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Rowlett, Texas. Officials with the chain's fledging U.S. arm, Campero USA Corp., hopes to expand its reach into more than 20 Wal-Mart locations across the country by the end of 2009.

For the world's largest retailer, Pollo Campero offers a new opportunity to reach out to its diverse range of shoppers as it customizes some aisles in its mammoth stores to sell culturally attuned products.

"It's kind of like when we're looking at salsa versus ketchup and tortillas versus bread," said Lorenzo Lopez, a spokesman for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. "All those things have crossed over very well with customers in general and this has the potential to very well do the same thing."

Wal-Mart, which largely abandoned running its own restaurants inside its stores, now leases out space for companies such as McDonald's Corp., Blimpie International Inc. and Subway. Recently, the company offered Camille's Sidewalk Cafe, a Tulsa, Okla.-based chain offering healthy fast food, to begin franchising its brand inside stores.

Pollo Campero, Spanish for "country chicken," offers a chance to capture a different, but lucrative kind of clientele. The fast-food chain, created in 1971, talked for years about moving into the U.S. market. The final push came in 1999, after Grupo Taca, Central America's main airline, began complaining about the smell of chicken overwhelming its planes.

Now the company has more than 40 locations in the United States. Rodolfo Jimenez, an executive vice president of business development with Pollo Campero, said Wal-Mart approached his company after a restaurant expo last year as part of an effort to reach Hispanic customers.

"They always said that they had a very big Hispanic component in their customer base," Jimenez said. "They wanted to bring in an authentic Latin brand to really be able to please those customers."

Jimenez said Pollo Campero, owned by Corporacion Multi-Inversiones, continues to discuss with Wal-Mart where it could next lease space in a store. The possibilities could be large for the brand, as even Wal-Mart's hometown of Bentonville has seen its Hispanic population explode since the 1990s.

But the push isn't limited to Hispanics. Jimenez said the chain now offers grilled chicken as part of an effort to please discerning U.S. customers.

The fried chicken, however, continues to be the restaurant's major draw. Jimenez, who spent time in the chain's new addition in Rowlett since its opening Thursday, said curious Wal-Mart customers continue to walk over to examine the Latin fare.

"Most people didn't know the brand," Jimenez said. "But just the fact of being there, and it's an open space and looks nice. We just said we were about chicken, so they came over and tried the product and they were very pleased."


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