Having started life as a traditional fried chicken shop in Ealing Broadway in 1992, Roosters Piri Piri has come a long way. For one thing, its chicken is now steam cooked and then finished on a grill rather than deep fried. More significantly, however, is that the one restaurant has grown to 42, with ambitious plans to reach 100 sites within the next three years.
Not bad going considering the initial idea was “a bit of a rip off of KFC at the time,” admits Shahid Hussain, director of UK and global franchising at Roosters. “We did a 99p burger and all your generic fried chicken meals,” he says. “It wasn’t very innovative.”
Nevertheless, the first Roosters traded well, with the brand growing to a handful of sites over the next few years buoyed by its main USP of being a halal chicken shop – something that was less common at the time. However, founder Khalid Mirza was keen to innovate and get ahead of the trends in the fast-casual-dining market, and had noticed that a certain upcoming brand called Nando’s was doing well in the chicken space.
“We also noticed a gap in the market for grilled food, which we moved to around 2010,” says Hussain. “Three years after that we noticed there was also a gap for healthy fast food, so we worked with our chefs and menu development team to make sure our food was low in fats, calories and saturates.
“We also refined our cooking process as well. Now all our poultry products are marinated for 24 hours and then steam cooked. It is still a work in progress and it is a very crowded market; we are constantly looking to innovate.”
Owning the supply chain
Roosters’ menu offers various wraps – with meats marinated in a choice of four different flavours, including its signature piri piri sauce – as well as burgers, salads, grilled meat platters and desserts. Its flavourings are all gluten, nut, and wheat-free, in order to appeal to the widest possible consumer base.
Another strength of the business is it owns its entire supply chain. The company set up its logistics arms, which also supplies other restaurant businesses, at the same time it opened its first shop, and controls the process from the factory to the food on people’s plates.
"If you have 40 different franchisees
you have 40 different opinions"
Whether it has been the ability to stay ahead of the trends, or the quality of the offer, the business has continued to grow over the years – sales are up approximately 5% for the financial year to date – and now operates a predominately franchised operation, with about 80% of the estate now under a franchise model. “We started with company-owned sites but decided that franchising was the way to go,” says Hussain. “But we like to have around five or six company-owned sites open, as those locations can test products and also act as training centres for new franchisees.”
Although a number of its franchisees operate single sites, Roosters is keen for them to have the ambition to operate several. “Moving forward, as we are a bigger brand, we can be a bit more selective when it comes to who we take on as franchisees. But we always look for ambition. We don’t want someone to come and in and say they just want one branch, we want them to say ‘I want 10 branches in the next five years’.”
Ambition is by no means the key to success. Hussain admits the company has had issues with some franchisees – for example, operators introducing new menu items without consultation – and stores that were failing. Many have learnt from their mistakes, he says. “We had to take back our Harrow store from a franchise site to company-owned, but we have turned it around and boosted sales by three times. If you have 40 different franchisees, you can have 40 different opinions, so it’s about getting those people into the mindset of thinking like a brand and not as an individual.”
Taking new territory
The business currently has strong coverage in the south and south-east of England and is looking to extend its presence across the UK. It operates restaurants in Leeds and Nottingham, and is actively looking at cities, including Manchester, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Birmingham and, potentially, Belfast.
The company has been keen to open in Manchester for a while now, and has a dark kitchen concept that it is looking to open in the city should a suitable restaurant site not crop up, which would be available through multiple delivery operators. “If we can get those stores open, we can say we are a truly UK-wide brand,” says Hussain.
The south remains a focus, and the company opened its latest store on Church Street in Enfield, north London, just before Christmas, and upcoming openings include Portsmouth and Canterbury. It is looking to reach 50 sites by early this year, before adding another 20 or so next year and a further 30 in 2020.
The brand isn’t channeling all of its growth in the UK market. Roosters opened its first site in north Africa last year, in Libya, and currently has three restaurants in Ireland. Australia, Canada, Oman, Pakistan and South Africa are also areas it is exploring in terms of overseas franchise operations, while it is close to agreeing a deal in Bangladesh, which could see three restaurants open: in Sylhet, Dhaka and Chittagong.
Historically, the company has opted for high street locations within areas where there is a large Muslim population, but not anymore. “To offer halal meat is a good USP for us, but not something that we believe makes us truly different from our competitors.”
Now the business looks at a range of criteria, and it is keen on locations that have a big student population, as well as nearby gyms, to attract those wanting a healthier fast-food option. Shopping centre locations are also now on the cards, as long as the company can work with the more stringent regulations and often early closing times, with Roosters recently opening in the food court at The Core Shopping Centre in central Leeds.
Delivering the goods
That doesn’t mean Roosters is turning its back on the high street just yet. In terms of delivery, having a high-street presence is important, Hussain believes, because even if people don’t come into the shop they become familiar with the brand and will order online.
The growth of the delivery side of its business – some sites take up to 70% of their sales from delivery – and increasing business rates has led Roosters to look at opening smaller-scale restaurants. While the size of its current sites varies – Mile End in east London can seat around 80 people, while other sites only have space for 10 covers – the business is generally looking for space of around 1,000sq ft, rather than 3,000sq ft areas it would have previously considered, where it can still fit in around 30 to 35 seats.
“We don’t want to cheapen the brand and go for tiny sites that are takeaway only. We still want to be a place where people can come with their family or friends. We still want that restaurant atmosphere.”
In addition to its growing delivery business – the company has corporate deals with Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Just Eat – Roosters is looking to develop the collection side of its business, and has developed an app designed to make this easier. It now plans to update its current stamp system loyalty card so that it is linked to the app. “There are lots of students in areas like Mile End, and it would enable them to quickly pick up some food between lectures,” says Hussain.
Other recent developments include new packaging, which is made from 70% recycled materials, and different options for the packaging of its delivered food in order to retain heat more effectively. “We are preparing and thinking ahead,” says Hussain. “We will always try to find a way around problems and try to innovate.”
■ This article first appeared in MCA, a sister title to Restaurant magazine. Visit www.mca-insight.com to subscribe