Had George Constantinou kept the name of one of Texas Chicken’s most popular items, “there would have been a lot of confusion.” Called the Honey-Butter Biscuit in the Americas and many international markets, the flaky pastry became the honey-butter bun when Constantinou introduced Texas Chicken to New Zealanders in 2015.
“We couldn’t call it a biscuit in Australia or New Zealand because a biscuit is essentially a cookie,” explained Constantinou, executive director of Constantinou Group of Companies, which through its Good Taste Co. operates five Texas Chicken locations in the Southwest Pacific country.
Deep market research, including a blind taste test against KFC, prior to opening influenced other adjustments to the concept, such as reducing the heat profile of the spicy chicken. “And we had to alter the salt levels so it was palatable to New Zealanders,” said Constantinou. The changes were well received by local consumers, he noted, and the success of the first handful of restaurants prompted Constantinou to sign a new agreement for the development of 20 restaurants throughout the country.
“It’s been very, very strong since inception,” said Constantinou. “We’ve had high transaction counts, which leads to strong sales at the end of the day.” Even through the coronavirus pandemic “transactions were actually quite high. We’re pretty confident we can continue to drive those.”
The third-generation leader of his family’s business, Constantinou runs a group of companies in the construction and hospitality industries, including hotels and resorts in Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Australia and the Solomon Islands. Texas Chicken “caught my eye,” he said, while traveling in Southeast Asia, where the concept has a large presence. He originally sought to bring Texas Chicken to Papua New Guinea, where there is a “major gap in fast food … no McDonald’s, no KFC,” but the developing nature of the country and a supply chain that didn’t meet the brand’s specifications caused him to turn his attention to New Zealand.
Four Texas Chicken units are open in Auckland with one in Hamilton, on the country’s North Island. Development of the 20 new locations will concentrate on filling in those markets and establishing clusters in other large cities, of which there are few, making it difficult to find sites, said Constantinou.
“The property sector in New Zealand over the last six, seven, eight years has been quite competitive,” he said, and securing real estate within major thoroughfares is tough because businesses are often going after the same space in the handful of highly populated areas. “We’re going up against big players on particular sites, negotiating with landlords. It’s exciting, but it’s competitive.”
Constantinou aims to continue pulling market share from KFC, which opened 100 stores in the country since debuting there in 1971, while attracting new customers through marketing that emphasizes Texas Chicken’s “bold Texas flavor” positioning. New restaurants will be built in the brand’s updated Blaze design, which features refreshed exterior and interior signage, a branded ceiling element, delivery and online pickup areas, and “power canyons” with charging stations and smartphone holders.
“I’ve said this to the franchisor—it’s a much superior design, layout and look and feel for Texas Chicken,” said Constantinou, and he eventually wants to update existing restaurants to the new look. “We would have loved to have had this from the beginning.”
The Blaze design came out of “massive brand positioning research” the company conducted across 11 international markets in 2018, said Russ Sumrall, senior vice president of international strategic development. “We spent a lot of money and time learning what our customers thought was great and what they thought wasn’t so great. What we learned very clearly was consumers had an affinity for Texas, Texas being big and bold. So we leaned heaving into the Texas positioning.”
Texas Chicken, the sister brand to Church’s Chicken outside the Americas, is “unapologetically comfort food,” noted Sumrall. “We’re the Clint Eastwood of fast food,” and that resonates well on an international level.
Almost half of the brand’s 1,500-plus restaurants are outside the U.S., with locations in 26 countries. Earlier this year it signed an agreement with Envictus International Holdings to develop 115 new stores in Malaysia, where the group has 88 open, while in Saudi Arabia master franchisee Olayan Food Services signed a “major agreement” to expand in that country plus Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
Sumrall, who in mid-September had just completed a two-week trip with stops in Spain, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Thailand, said it’s “amazing and humbling” to come out of the pandemic and have franchisees continue to reinvest in Texas Chicken. During his visit to Bangkok Sumrall celebrated the opening of the first Texas Chicken Express, a compact, convenience-focused model that can go into spaces as small as 500 square feet.
After being acquired by Quiznos owner High Bluff Capital Partners in September 2021, the brands are prepared for continued international and domestic growth, said Sumrall. “They’re much more engaged and supportive—and their expectations are much higher,” he said. Private equity firm FFL Partners had owned Church’s Chicken since 2009. Systemwide sales were $1.27 billion in 2021.