Jollibee's chief taste officer travels the world to challenge McDonald's, KFC

Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 17 2019 10:30 AM | Updated as of Oct 17 2019 10:41 AM

Jollibee Foods Corporation Founder Mr. Tony Tan Caktiong, receives the Pillar of Brand Globalization at the Philippine Retailers Assiciation awards night, held at the Makati Shangri La Hotel on June 20, 2019. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA – Jollibee founder Tony Tan Caktiong travels the world "to eat" in search for acquisitions, his CEO successor said, as the Philippines' largest fast food operator moves to be ranked alongside McDonald's and KFC on the world stage.

The potential target need not be large, but it has to offer "superior" tasting food, said Jollibee Foods Corp CEO Ernesto Tan Mantiong.

"Tony goes out around the world to eat...Once he spots a restaurant chain with superior tasting products, the next criteria is if the concept is scalable,” Tan Mantiong told businessmen at a dinner meeting in Manila.

Mexican fast-casual business Tortas Frontera only has 3 outlets but JFC still invested in the company due to its highly scalable model, he said.

Jollibee also recently acquired Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, hoping to ride on the coffee boom with the beverage firms 1,200 stores, 70 percent of which are in Asia, he said.

Jollibee, Greenwhich, Chowking, Red Ribbon, Mang Inasal and Burger King are among JFC local brands. It also owns US-based Smashburger.

The company also has franchising interests for brands Dunkin Donuts, Panda Express, Pho 24, Tim Ho Wan and Highlands Coffee among others.

PEOPLE BUSINESS

Jollibee Foods Corp CEO Ernesto Tanmantiong speaks to the members of the Anvil Business Club during a forum in Pasig City. Oct. 11, 2019. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Jollibee is looking for leaders who will steer the Philippines' largest fast food operator as a "people business," its CEO said, as the company goes global.

Unlike machines that can be calibrated, leaders should inherently possess empathy and humility and should be able to listen to their peers and raise their self-esteem, said Jollibee CEO Ernesto Tanmantiong.

All the while, the menu must be great-tasting, said Tanmantiong. Jollibee is seeking its spot in the world's top 5 fast food chains, joining the ranks of McDonald's and KFC through acquisitions and exporting its eponymous brand and Chickenjoy to overseas Filipino communities.

"People often ask what is the secret to success. My answer is that the competition may have had all the resources in its arsenal but there is one thing they didn’t have - it’s the JFC team," he said.

"The difficulty in the food service is you’re relying on people, everyday, every minute, every second, unlike when you’re in the factory business you can just calibrate the equipment and you can produce consistently everyday but in food service you rely on people," he added.

Customers crowd a Jollibee counter in Manila. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Good food is just "20 percent" of the formula for global success. Hiring a good team is crucial in replicating the values of the company globally, Tanmantiong told a gathering of businessmen in Manila.

Jollibee considers a job applicant’s sense integrity, purpose, passion, respect for individuals and commitment, he said.

"Technical skills can easily be learned but integrity and people skills are more difficult to train. Those are the things we try to determine during the interview because those qualities are difficult to train," he said.

Other than taste, Tan said, good location and competitively priced products with good value for money are keys to success in expanding to global markets.

“There is no shortcut, you really have to work hard on the basics. To make sure the operation is efficient… There is no secret in food service,” Tan said.