El Pollo Loco is Spanish for the Crazy Chicken, but perhaps a change in name is in order.
Larry Roberts, who on March 10 was named chief executive of Costa Mesa-based El Pollo Loco Holdings Inc. (Nasdaq: LOCO), has decided his first big move at the nearly 500-store chain is to add beef to the menu.
Specifically, its Mexican Shredded Beef Birria. It’s a notable expansion of the brand known for its fire-grilled poultry.
“It’s one of the most unique products the business has launched and served to our customers,” Roberts said during the nearly $420 million-valued firm’s fourth-quarter earnings call on March 10.
“It’s capturing a trend that is very big out here in California.”
El Pollo Loco says it will be the first quick-service restaurant to offer Birria, a traditional soup or stew made from a combination of meat and spices, and is widely celebrated as one of the most famous dishes hailing from the Mexican state of Jalisco.
Roberts said the restaurant is redirecting its brand messaging to focus more on the menu items rather than humor.
He felt the company’s focus “got a little bit away from the food and consumers using the food, and got more into, quite frankly, naked people with nachos and those types of things,” he told analysts, speaking of a late 2021 advertising campaign.
The company is expanding its efforts into digital media, which comprises about 11% to 12% of sales, up from 10% a year ago.
The Birria announcement features a media rollout across TV and social channels, such as TikTok and Snapchat.
The Birria will be served in quesadillas, burritos, and tacos until June 1.
“When we develop new recipes at El Pollo Loco, we always consider the rich flavor profiles of our Mexican roots and go through countless rounds of testing so we can get each product just right,” VP of Research and Development Heather Gardea said in a statement.
Roberts has more than 20 years of experience in the fast-food industry, including as chief operating officer and chief financial officer at KFC. He was first hired as El Pollo Loco CFO in 2013, and since last October has served as interim CEO. He replaces Bernard Acoca, who now serves as CEO of Zaxby’s.
“We are excited about the opportunity to move our brand forward and are ready to execute on our strategic priorities to further strengthen our business and deliver long-term growth,” Roberts said.
The company has 480 company-owned and franchised restaurants, mostly in the southwestern U.S.
The company declined to provide a financial outlook for 2022, citing uncertainty around the pandemic. After the company reported results on March 10, shares fell 16% in the two subsequent trading sessions.