MBN Design Featured in Orange County Register

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MBN Design and El Pollo Loco team up to release the famous Pollo Bowl® into supermarkets.

After years of avoiding entry into the supermarket arena – where profit margins are razor thin – El Pollo Loco is spreading its wings into retail.

The Costa Mesa-based chicken chain has created a frozen version of  its Pollo Bowl, which is now being sold in roughly 100 Costco warehouses   in Southern California. It is also stocked in 600 supermarkets,  including Ralphs, Food 4 Less and Smart & Final.

“We see a real opportunity because there’s no real high quality  Mexican brand in the frozen food sector, said Joe Stein, El Pollo  Loco’s senior vice president of strategy and innovation.

The move comes as El Pollo Loco looks for new ways to make money and increase brand awareness. Earlier this month, the chain launched steak – one of several new foods El Pollo Loco plans to add to its menu this year.

Stein said El Pollo Loco has spent two years investigating how to bring the right product to market.

It had to be something portable and easy to recreate, he added.

The chain eventually came up with a frozen version of its Pollo Bowl and pitched the idea to Costco. The chain tested it in San Diego  warehouses last fall and found that it sold well.

Over the holidays, the product expanded to 100 warehouses in Southern   California, including Orange County. The Costco item is sold for $13.99  and includes six, 16 oz. Pollo Bowls.  The bowls sold in supermarkets  are different in size and ingredients.

The grocery stores sell a 4-pack of 12-oz. bowls, that contain the  exact same ingredients sold at the restaurants. Cost: $8.99-$9.99,  depending on the store.

The Costco bowls offer cheese, which is not a regular topping on  bowls served at restaurants. Stein said Costco insisted on adding cheese   because the warehouse chain thought the bowls would sell better.

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Research shows that El Pollo Loco is entering the frozen food sector at the right time. With consumers  cutting back on dining, more are  turning to convenient frozen items to eat at home or at the office,  according to market research firm Packaged Facts.

Local restaurant chains that have entered the frozen food market over the past few years include Newport Beach-based Ruby’s Diner, Irvine-based Yard House and Cypress-based Real Mex Restaurants. The latter is the parent company of El Torito, El Torito Grill, Acapulco and Chevys restaurants.

For years, Marie Callender’s has also offered a large line of foods  in supermarkets. Over a five-year period between 2008 and 2013, frozen  food sales are forecast to grow 25 percent to $64.8 billion, Packaged  Facts said in a 2009 report. El Pollo Loco is taking advantage of that demand.

Stein said the bowls, so far, are exceeding expectations with more  than $4 million in sales. The chain is working with other grocery  chains, and it expects the bowls to be in 1,000 stores relatively soon.

As for new retail products, Stein said he’s looking at the  possibility of bottling and selling the chain’s avocado salsa and creamy   cilantro dressing.  The chain is also investigating the possibility of   selling pre-marinated chicken for barbecuing and or selling the  company’s famous citrus-marinade separately.

“If we do it right, this could generate profits in the multi-million dollar (range) in the next two years.”