For many businesses in the food, drink and hospitality sectors, the last 12 months have been a nightmare. However, one area has flourished — deliveries.

However, Chicken Cottage has met the challenge of the Coronavirus pandemic head on and brought in a raft of innovations to not only help them survive the crisis, but thrive in the future as well.

“No-one would say there could be anything positive from Covid,” says Shahrin Imran, Group CEO of the company, which was founded more than 25 years ago. “But obviously when people were unable to eat out and takeaways were the only option, that has fired up a huge increase in that segment of the business. In fact, our revenue streams from takeaways and through delivery channels such as Just Eat, UBER Eats and Deliveroo really skyrocketed. Many of our franchisees saw double digit growths in sales. When lockdown first started in March last year it started slowly and then when the consumers realised that they could still enjoy ‘dine-out food’ at home by ordering online that’s when the orders started to really come in. So in terms of the company itself we’ve not seen any drop in revenue compared to the previous year.”

The original idea behind Chicken Cottage was to create a fried chicken menu prepared according to Halal methods, initially to cater for the Muslim market. But with the opening of the first store in Wembley, it became apparent quickly that there was a much wider appetite for this fusion of traditional fast food fare with Eastern-flavoured spices and herbs.

The Chicken Cottage franchise rapidly took off and branches opened at a steady rate across the country, and in countries outside the UK.
But the story soon took another turn when a couple of years later the company was taken over by Terengganu Incorporated of Malaysia.
If it seems odd that an Asian foreign company would want to take over a British fast food franchise – albeit a hugely successful, growing one think again. Chicken Cottage was already a hugely profitable business, now those profits can be used to further grow the quality of operations and product innovation, with a bigger target which is to grow a brand that is known around the world.

When Food and Drink News last spoke to Chicken Cottage in 2019 they were about to start a major expansion program across the globe. Obviously, that was put on hold during 2020 but now they are gearing up to re-start that.

But they’ve also been forced into new ways of working through the pandemic, and some of those are going to be built into the business going forward.

For starters, the reliance on takeaways ordered online or by phone has seen the rise of so-called “dark kitchens”. These are essentially takeaways without the shop-front. They can be located away from town centres — say on an industrial estate —where the food will be prepared to be then have it despatched to the customer.

Shahrin says, “Obviously there is now less requirement to actually go into a shop on a high street either to order a takeaway or dine in, and food business owners are realising that if you are doing a lot of business through Just Eat, UBER Eats or Deliveroo then you can have your kitchen by itself out of town where it is more cost effective. That’s a model we are looking at a lot this year for Chicken Cottage.”

Chicken Cottage is constantly innovating with new flavours and dishes on top of the basic fried chicken offer, and that is now expanding into desserts, another innovation to come out of the pandemic.

“We realised that people want to order the whole meal,” says Shahrin. “And preferably from the same place, for ease. So as part of our new product development program, we’ve developed our own ice cream range and introduced cookie doughs and chocolate brownies, which we’re really proud of and which has proven to be really popular. Our satay burger which we introduced at the end of 2020 has also been a hit!”

The company is currently looking at increasing their base of franchisees — they have 60 in the UK — both at home and abroad. With an increasing focus on delivered food they are looking closely at areas such as the Middle East, South East Asia and Africa, and investigating their infrastructure for deliveries through internet and phone to ensure it is compatible with Chicken Cottage’s pledge of top-flight service.

They say every cloud has a silver lining – that’s certainly the principle that Chicken Cottage holds on to in the current pandemic. The company which is headquartered in Croydon, where staffs manage the franchise operations around the UK and build up Chicken Cottage’s portfolio of stores around the world – is looking at the situation as a window of opportunity.

Shahrin says, “Obviously because of Covid we’ve been a little more cautious about opening restaurants in the last year, but that said we’ve opened a couple of franchise stores in 2020, and signed up another which will open in the first quarter of 2021.

We are definitely optimistic in how this year will progress. People are seeing that even if restaurants are closed there’s still money to be made from deliveries, and that’s the selling point we are putting forward to potential investors or franchisees right now.” He adds, “We are also very excited about our corporate expansion program starting in 2021 that will see us delivering Chicken Cottage to more people across the UK through our own company stores. We hope this will also help the local economy by creating new job opportunities.”

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