The shift in franchising strategy is one of many changes Roberts is hoping to implement in the coming months.
One of the priorities is to realign brand messaging, which the CEO described as inconsistent over the past year. Roberts used the example of El Pollo’s promotion of Double Loaded Nachos, in which the brand satirically denounced the indecency of naked tortilla chips and ran TV spots with naked people.
Going forward, he wants El Pollo to lean further into its L.A-Mex culture and reach younger consumers while maintaining the core customer base. A major part of that process is enhancing menu innovation; the company recently added resources to elevate how the product development team screens, tests, and launches new concepts.
“I wouldn't say a huge, huge shift, but it is getting back to the fundamentals of we believe really differentiates the brand," Roberts said.
The brand is looking to get back on track soon with the limited-time Mexican Shredded Beef Birria. Promotion will be focused on the food and “really nothing cute about the advertising.”
“It speaks for itself, and you can already have fun with it just from the dipping, so really looking forward to that,” Roberts said. “And that to me is really where we start getting back to the more consistent advertising, more focus on the brand, the quality of the food. And we want to make sure also all our advertising is when people see the ad, they know it's El Pollo Loco and it doesn't get too far off track from what we've traditionally done.”
As El Pollo folds in these LTOs, the chain is working on a “more robust front-end assessment” of new product offers to make sure they aren’t too complex. The company is also eliminating low-mix menu items and unnecessary ingredients and testing a simplified menu board later in 2022 to improve order accuracy and speed of service.
The cooking process is being evaluated, as well. El Pollo is looking at its most labor-intensive activities to create back-of-house efficiency without affecting quality. For instance, beginning in mid-March, kitchens will use stemless serrano peppers and pre-cut cilantro to reduce preparation activity. As for equipment, the chain is testing a new machine that cuts one to three hours of work when making hot salsa.
Roberts also wants El Pollo to continue building digital and social media efforts. Digital mixes 11-12 percent, up from 10 percent at the end of 2020. The company recently expanded its digital team and is in the process of deploying a comprehensive go-to-market plan that will integrate TV, social, and digital media channels to deliver coordinated and targeted messages.
Additionally, the fast casual is in the final stages of partnering with a customer intelligence provider to better segment consumer information.