The Habit Burger Grill is fired up and ready to start its race to 10,000 restaurants
General manager Yang Ming Ong shares first details of the chargrilled burger brand’s strategy, and how Asia would play a critical role.
The Habit Burger Grill, the American fast casual chain that Yum! Brands acquired nearly two years ago, has concluded its long-term strategic plan to complement the worldwide reach of sister brands Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut with its char-grilled burgers.
The overall goal: 10,000 stores, a third of which will be in Asia-Pacific, the region’s general manager told QSR Media.
Restaurant openings in the region will start in 2023, using this year for finishing market research, finalising brand positioning, conversations with prospect franchisees, and building its support centre roster in Singapore. A new design for international builds is also in the works.
“With the scale and the knowledge of Yum in many international markets, it gives us confidence that we have a good chance of success,” Ong said in an exclusive interview.
China, currently with seven outlets, is envisioned to have over 1,000 in the long-term. Other six markets Habit is looking to first enter into are Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea—a target since 2019, prior to the chain’s acquisition—and Australia.
“People understand burgers very well in these markets,” Ong said, referring to the three aforementioned countries in Southeast Asia. “There's the appetite and the willingness to pay for a different and better experience.”
Currently, The Habit Burger Grill has grown to over 300 restaurants in 14 U.S. states, including the ones in China and five more outlets in Cambodia.
Growth itself will be modest in the first two to three years, Ong said, arguing that the first ten stores in a target market will highlight a dine-in experience with an open kitchen format. This, he says, will be “critical” to establish the brand and the business model, echoing a similar philosophy he had during his tenure with Texas Chicken.
In the next five years, he believes it would be “realistic” to have up to 500 across the region.
“The one thing that we are very keen on is to make sure that we open in a way that creates the maximum brand impact. We don't want to open in one country and then have a long period before the next one,” he said.
Ong also hopes the chain’s “better burger”, chef-driven proposition will resonate in the region. Photo: Supplied
Drawing lessons from Habit’s performance in the U.S., Ong is also counting on investments in off-premise channels and smaller assets. Formats will depend on the market.
“After we have created that brand awareness, then we would pivot towards other formats that are more suitable for off-premises [dining],” he said.
Aside from business development, Ong teased public relations activities intended to generate interest in the markets, aiming to convey the brand’s personality.
Whilst searching for new franchisees for Habit, Ong clarified that Yum’s existing franchisees are “great candidates” to add the brand to their respective portfolios.
Optimistic about consumer spending, property opportunities and investment appetites in the next few years, Ong also hopes the chain’s “better burger”, chef-driven proposition will resonate in the region, citing quality, flavours and variety as its strengths. Aside from burgers, Habit also offers a roster of artisanal sandwiches, salads, and milkshakes.
“We are also cognizant that the next 12 months [will] probably throw a lot of surprises. And that's the reason why we are not wanting to rush.”