The Complete History of Chooks to Go

September 28, 2022
Chris Garin

Bounty Agro Ventures Inc or BAVI - the company behind Chooks to Go - sells over 200 million chicken products ever year.

The success story behind Chooks to Go is pretty mind-blowing especially when you consider that this was never part of the plan - BAVI never meant to launch something like Chooks to Go.

They started the company to be in the business of operating poultry farms.

Chooks to Go was only launched when its main business was threatened.

And now today, Chooks to Go has close to 2,000 branches nationwide, and in 2022, it was listed as 2nd biggest fast-food chain in the Philippines and ranked 61st worldwide.

In this blog post, you will learn about:

   - The Origins of Chooks to Go

   - Why they launched Chooks to Go even though it wasn’t part of their plan initially

   - Why they launched Uling Roasters separately

   - And strategies they used that led to their success

You can also watch this video on my YouTube channel.

How Chooks to Go started

In the 1980s, this guy Tennyson Chen started his own poultry business with around 5,000 chickens, in Sta. Maria Bulacan.

Initially, they were really just into the whole layer farm business. The idea of chooks to go hasn’t even entered their minds yet.

As the business grew bigger, Tennyson Chen founded Bounty Agro Ventures Inc, or BAVI. This was around 1997. And little by little, this started to become some sort of like family business.

Initially, what the company essentially did was that they were suppliers of dressed whole chickens and chicken parts.

And they were selling these under the brand Bounty Fresh.

When you’re doing grocery shopping in SM, you’ll see a lot of these Bounty Fresh brand of chicken parts. Little by little, the business started to do well.

Ronald Mascariñas joins BAVI

Seeing the potential of how much bigger they can grow this company into, Tennyson Chen brought in a key person, one who played a big role in the success of Chooks to Go today.

So he brought in this guy, Ronald Mascariñas. That time, he was the president of Smokeys.

If you’re not familiar with Smokeys, they sold these hotdog sandwiches topped with chopped onions, mushrooms, cheese, bacon.

That’s when I discovered that Smokeys was under San Miguel PureFoods. So since PureFoods was in the business of selling their TenderJuicy hotdogs in supermarkets, they launched Smokeys to open up another way of selling their hotdogs. So their goal was to be able to reach customers directly with their ready to eat hotdogs, and hopefully turn it into a fast-food chain open for franchising.

Now in this alone, you can already kind of see the similarities with what PureFoods was trying to do with Smokeys, and with what BAVI is doing with Chooks to Go.

So Ronald Mascariñas was in charge of this during that time, and so Tennyson Chen brought him in.

And once he was in, Mascariñas gathered his most trusted colleagues, and created some type of superteam - folks he knew who excelled in their previous roles.

And with this, BAVI’s growth went through the roof. From a big poultry company, BAVI started gaining ground nationwide.

How BAVI grew so fast

What they basically did was that they started working with third party investors, and this allowed them to open more poultry farms, eventually turning into some network - poultry farms, processing, delivery operations - and so from an operator, BAVI started morphing into this self-sustaining money-making machine.

And if things just stayed the way they were, they could’ve just repeated this process and the money never would’ve stopped coming in.

But then of course that’s never really how it plays out does it.

Why they decided to launch Chooks to Go

In 1990, the ASEAN free trade agreement was rolled out.

This meant that it would be easier for companies in other Southeast Asian countries to expand their businesses within ASEAN.

What this meant for BAVI was that, their main market was now under threat.

This meant that they were no longer competing with local players, they would now also be competing with foreign companies.

And there were specific competitors based in Thailand that they considered a big threat, since they’re a lot bigger than BAVI, which meant that they could possibly enter the Philippines, offer the same products at a lower price, and that would pretty much end the dominance of BAVI.

The article even mentioned something about brand loyalty, but let’s get real here, when it comes to commodities there is really no such thing as brand loyalty. People’s loyalty will be to the price.

And so if the Thailand-based competitor came in, it would completely ruin everything they’ve built.

And so they had to come up with something different. It’s not like they could stop the ASEAN free trade agreement from happening, so this forced them to go find a way to defend their market share.

So they figured, okay, right now, we’re selling raw chicken, ready to cook chicken to customers in supermarkets, and we’re also selling raw chicken wholesale to businesses, what if we sell ready-to-eat cooked chicken to customers?

But they knew that this would be a difficult task because as I mentioned earlier, even San Miguel tried this with PureFoods by selling cooked hotdogs under the Smokeys brand, and even San Miguel wasn’t able to successfully do it. Even Robinson’s own Universal Robina tried doing this as well, also didn’t work out well for them.

So I guess you can say that this is the type of problem that a large amount of capital can’t solve. Like, it won’t matter how much money you throw into this idea, there’s a certain formula that they had to do right in order for this to work.

Mascariñas shared that their success came from an 80% failure rate.

It goes without saying that when you have a business that already has systems in place, a business model that’s been working well for several years now - it’s not easy switching things up.

And so the transition from being a poultry integrator to cooked chicken retailer was very challenging, and also expensive.

Also keep in mind that around this time, they weren’t going to be the first to enter this industry. They were going to battling it out with existing roasted chicken brands such as Andok’s, Baliwag, and so many others.

Baliwag was founded around 1985, and has also expanded like crazy today, Baliwag and Chooks-to-go can usually be found in the same areas.

Andoks is also another roasted chicken giant that you can find everywhere in the country.

And these are brands that people love, okay? These aren’t competitors that you can just immediately count out.

And so BAVI was up against established giants at this point.

So they needed to do something different, and it had to do with their recipe.

Chooks to Go's branding strategy

Most roasted chicken brands or lechon manok brands, they all come with their own special dipping sauce. And that’s kind of what people expect from them, that’s personally what I expect from them.

For Chooks-to-Go, they’re known for their tagline of “masarap kahit walang sauce”, Delicious even without the sauce.

This is tagline kinda gives you the impression that wow their chicken must be incredibly tasty that they’re confident enough to brag about no needing sauce. It’s a pretty bold claim.

Kinda makes you think that their chicken has been marinated for hours or even days if they can make the blandest of chicken parts taste well.

But what’s funny is that, this whole “tastes good without sauce” thing, they didn’t come up with this on purpose.

Apparently, during their marinating process, one of their employees skipped one particular step, and surprisingly, instead of ruining the whole batch, it made the chicken much more tastier, juicier, and just overall more delicious - to the point that it no longer needs sauce to compete with Baliwag and Andoks.

The best part? This became allowed Chooks-to-Go to stand out from everyone else.

Mascariñas proudly said “if customers come here asking for sauce, then they are not our customers. Let them buy from other sellers.”

The whole brand positioning of “masarap kahit walang sauce” definitely helped them overtake existing competitors.

Why they called it Chooks to Go

Have you ever wondered why they decided to go for the name Chooks to Go? It’s pretty simple, actually. Chooks is kind of the casual term for chicken in Australia, and the "to-go" part simply refers to the takeout-only format of Chooks to Go.

According to Ronald Mascariñas, it wasn’t until after they opened the 100th branch of Chooks to Go, and it wasn’t until these 100 branches started becoming ultra successful and profitable when they felt confident that okay, there’s something here. We can actually dominate this category.

Here’s what’s amazing tho, when Chooks to Go started gaining some momentum, which is a bit of an understatement since at this point they were pretty much crushing it - they decided to launch two more brands - Uling Roasters, and Reyal.

I’m sure you guys have seen Chooks to Go alongside these two brands, and personally, I actually thought that Uling Roasters and Reyal were it’s competitors but apparently, Chooks to Go owns both Uling Roasters and Reyal!

It’s a pretty smart move for Chooks to Go to create new brands instead of introducing new flavors to its product line.

So why did they launch Uling Roasters and Reyal?

Why they launched Uling Roasters & Reyal

Well as for Uling Roasters - they were actually planning to replicate the Chooks to Go model, but this time in Africa. That's why the original flavor of Uling Roasters was catered to the African palette.

Unfortunately, due to the Ebola outbreak, their expansion plans were put on hold, and so they just rolled out the brand here instead.

Uling Roasters was initially launched without tagline, but as soon as they added the now famous “di raw masyadong masarap pero pwede na” tag line, it went viral on social media, and people actually loved cheeky and honest brand statement.

Aside from the noticeable different recipe, unlike other roasted chickens which are oven roasted, what makes Uling Roasters different is that it is charcoal roaster chicken.

As for Reyal, this one is charcoal grilled chicken, at that time, they really considered Reyal as their most promising brand but I don’t know what happened to it because I don’t really see that brand as often as I used to.

They launched Reyal to appeal to millennials. I remember Reyal being much sweeter and actually quite addicting - like I remember the first time I tried it, that’s pretty much all I ate for the next few days until I got sick of it completely lol.

Personally, I thin kit’s pretty clever for Chooks to go to use this strategy of creating separate brands. They got to experiment on new flavors under a different identity, and so the successful or failure of their experiments won’t affect the success of Chooks to Go.

But I guess the downside is that each brand means its own independent location which means additional expenses, instead of just putting them all in one roof.

But so far, it seems to have worked well for Chooks to Go.

Nowadays, there’s usually an Uling Roasters store right beside Chooks to Go locations. So I guess that’s the one-two punch that’s working out well for BAVI right now.

What did surprise me was that apparently, BAVI also owns Adobo Connection.

Why Chooks to Go launched Hei-Hei

One of their newest brands is called Hei-Hei, which they launched in April 2021.

Remember that BAVI is constantly on the lookout for more ways to sell their chicken, and so they realized that they have yet to tap the fried chicken category, as well as snacks. And that’s why they launched Hei-Hei.

Chooks to Go, Uling Roasters, and Adobo Connection all cater to meals for lunch and dinner, and so they launched Hei-Hei for their snack offerings. And since roasted chicken usually retails for around 200 to 250, they get to tap into the 20 to 60 peso price range with Hei-Hei, and cater to the C and D market.

Offering products such as their Classic Chicken Burger, Crispy Chicken Burger, Chicken Siomai, and many others.

A month after they launched, BAVI shared that Hei-Hei exceed their targets by up to 400%

I did a bit of digging regarding the name Hei-Hei and why they chose that and well apparently HeiHei is the Maori word for chicken. And so its a tribute to the Tegel, the New Zealand based company that the Bounty Group acquired in 2009.

These are the bits that I love learning about. Like I had no idea that BAVI had a stake in an international company based in New Zealand. That just shows how big they’ve grown since they launched.

Now if you’ve noticed, Chooks to Go, Uling Roasters, Hei Hei, what do they all have in common? These brands are optimized for takeout orders only. Okay except some branches of Hei Hei which has some seats available. But they’re still pretty much leaning on accepting takeout orders only.

And so so far, this has worked well for Chooks to Go, now that they have over 1,700 locations.

But their problem now is that, they’re starting to realize that they may already have maxed out the number of locations they can open without cannibalizing existing ones.

And so recently, in 2021, they’ve decided testing out their new dine-in concept: Chooks!

It’s basically Chooks to Go but this time in an actual restaurant setting where you can dine in.

BAVI has partnered up with Robinsons, and so I’m guessing you’ll be seeing the first few branches of Chooks! in Robinsons malls.

I’ve checked their menu and they have chicken and rice meals available. I already have a feeling that this will be go head to head with Jollibee Foods Corp’s Mang Inasal.

It’ll be interesting how this will all play out considering that BAVI probably wouldn’t enter into something like this if they weren’t confident that It’ll turn out well for them, and of course Jollibee-backed Mang Inasal won’t back down that easily.

How Chooks to Go selects their endorsers

One other reason why Chooks to Go is so successful is their marketing.

These guys do not hold back when it comes to signing big-name endorsers.

Such as Vic Sotto, who, honestly, love him or hate him, his influence is pretty impactful, especially when you consider that he’s known to not just readily endorse any brand that can afford to pay him. Like I read that he actually needs to believe in the product first. And so him endorsing Chooks to Go is pretty big for the brand.

Chooks to Go has also worked with former Manila Mayor and presidential candidate Isko Moreno. And most importantly, boxing legend Manny Pacquiao.

During his presidential campaign, I was actually surprised to see Manny Pacquiao going around the country campaigning along with a Chooks to Go mascot, I mean I didn’t expect that their partnership extend to his campaign.

Pretty good deal for Chooks to Go if you ask me, being able to ride on the campaign of Manny Pacquiao. Like Manny Pacquiao was giving away a lot of Chooks to Go chicken during his campaign.

Having all these big name endorsers are pretty much what you’d expect from a massively successful brand like Chooks to Go, but what I didn’t see coming was how involved Chooks to Go is in the world of basketball.

So in 2022, Chooks to Go became the FIBA 3 on 3 World Tour Global Partner.

I really thought that this was just a local league being sponsored by Chooks to Go, but apparently, it’s quite legit. Like this is indeed a global thing. This partnership gives Chooks to Go the right to conduct all FIBA-sanctioned 3 on 3 tournaments.

When I first heard of this, honestly, it felt kinda weird hearing about roasted chicken brand being so involved in sports. But then again, when you consider that basketball is kind of the go-to sport of Filipinos, then associating the brand with something your market loves makes complete sense.

Why do Filipinos love Chooks to Go?

Just thinking out loud, roasted chicken is perfect for Filipinos.

Roasted chicken is relatively cheap. For around 200 to 250, you can feed your whole family. Since it’s ready for takeout, you can get it quickly, especially when you’re on your way home after work.

Is it the healthiest? I wouldn’t say that’s extremely healthy considering that I have no idea what they put in their marinade, but it is definitely much healthier than fast-food.

And so usually, roasted chicken is the go-to dinner that parents bring home to their families when they’re too tired to cook.

And for a lot of Filipinos, who are mostly overworked and underpaid, it’s a God-send that such a product is available.

And that’s why I’m happy to know that Chooks to Go is doing really well. I love stories about brands that actually make people’s lives better. And Chooks to Go definitely fits this narrative perfectly.

And so that’s about it.

Now you know about the brand origins of Chooks to Go.

Learn more about brands in the Philippines

My name is Chris - and I talk about brands in the Philippines. Subscribe to my YouTube channel for more videos.

You can also listen to this story on the podcast.

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Estate Planning for Filipino Families

Learn More