By Arno Maierbrugger
In the footsteps of the Philippines’ largest fast food chain, Jollibee, which is very expansive in the GCC countries — Gulf Times reported — another restaurant brand, Binalot Fiesta Foods, is the next one to make its foray into the Gulf. Binalot CEO Rommel Juan recently said in Manila that a first Binalot store will be opened in Dubai shortly, and more will follow in other GCC countries.
Target group for Binalot restaurants are mostly Oversea Filipino Workers (OFWs), as the restaurant serves traditional Filipino food such as adobo, bistek, tapas, tocino, sisig and longganisa, all in traditional sauces and most dishes served in banana leaves, Binalot’s trademark.
The restaurant chain was founded in 1996 by young Filipino entrepreneurs who wanted to add something more traditional to the fast food culinary world the country was offering by imitating large US chains.
The main trademark of Binalot in comparison to the other chains is that they do not serve food in plastic or carton boxes, but in banana leaves, giving the chain some unique sales proposition.
Today, Binalot has 47 stores in the Philippines and has emerged into a strong and major franchise player competing with fastfood icons in the country. Eighty per cent Binalot restaurants are franchise stores, Juan said.
He added that seven stores are opening up this year with 3.5mn pesos ($80,000) average investment for each. The majority of the new stores are located in Metro Manila where there is a strong demand by urbanites to experience the traditional Filipino comfort food wrapped in banana leaves. As for the expansion, Juan said that Binalot will set up stores outside the Philippines, “where there is a critical mass of OFWs” that allows to distribute Filipino products there.
“Binalot will also look for strategic partners and franchisers in international markets it plans to enter,” he added.
However, some experts say it can turn out difficult to attract customers others than Filipinos with restaurants that serve traditional Filipino dishes in the Middle East. The food — albeit of Asian descent — is normally not perceived as being highly exotic and delicious in the same way such as Thai or Vietnamese food. In fact, Filipino food is more a wild mixture of Malay, Spanish, Italian, Chinese and American influences, which means it can be everything from paella, spaghetti, roasted beef, chicken braised in garlic, meat in tomato stew, eggplant on shrimp paste, oxtail soup to fried spring rolls. Binalot has lots of that on the menu. The restaurant will also have to think about halal certifications for its food if it wants to sell it to Muslims in the GCC.
However, even if Binalot just attracts Filipinos to come and eat good-old homemade food in banana leaves, there is still a sizeable target group. According to latest estimations, 1.5mn Filipinos live in Saudi Arabia, some 700,000 in the UAE, some 200,000 in Qatar and some 180,000 in Kuwait. These are the GCC countries with the largest Filipino population and the natural destinations for Binalot’s expansion.
© Gulf Times 2014