A few weeks ago, a popular brand from the Philippines, Potato Corner, opened its first Malaysian store in Sunway Pyramid.
Sporting the brand’s signature green and yellow colours, the outlet located on LG2 sells what the company dubs as “the world’s best flavoured fries”.
Now, flavoured fries aren’t really a new invention as many fast food brands already serve them. For example, McDonald’s seasonally offers their McShaker fries and it’s quite popular in Malaysia.
With 31 years of history and over 1,800 stores across 16 countries though, surely Potato Corner must be doing something right. So I reached out to the brand to find out what it plans to do in the Malaysian market.
But first, what is Potato Corner?
As the name suggests, Potato Corner mainly focuses on potato products, specifically flavoured fries. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the brand’s selection criteria is “extremely rigorous”.
In its grand opening press release, the brand explained that the brand only uses fries of the highest grade from the best producers. Right now, they’re using fries imported from Europe.
Alongside that, Potato Corner also serves their Super Chicken Pop.
Both the fries and chicken bites are customisable, so you can opt for your preferred flavours. Currently, the Malaysian outlet only has four flavours to choose from. They are Cheese, BBQ, Chilli BBQ, and Sour Cream.
There are a total of five sizes available, ranging from Large (RM8.90) to Tera (RM26.90). Between the five, some of them allow for mixed flavour combinations, namely the Mega (RM15.90), Giga (RM22.90), and Tera cups.
According to its opening day press release, Potato Corner also has a “100% Happy Sure policy”. If you’re unsatisfied by its fries for whatever reason, the brand will replace one for you immediately within the same day.
At the time of writing, the brand is still in the process of preparing to apply for JAKIM’s halal certification. But they’ve reassured customers that Potato Corner currently uses halal-certified ingredients.
A simple yet well-loved snack around the globe
Upon connecting to the brand, we were introduced to Chayapatra Thongcharoen (or more fondly known as Pong), the Group CEO of Rocks Group.
For context, Rocks Group owns the local master franchise of Potato Corner in Malaysia and Thailand, which means that the company owns the rights to run and expand Potato Corner here.
Did you know: A master franchise is a person or business who buys the rights to sell the products or services of another company in a particular area or country. In this case, Rocks Group owns the rights to recruit Potato Corner franchisees in Thailand and Malaysia.
Source: Cambridge Dictionary
But as mentioned, Potato Corner is actually a Filipino brand. Started in 1992 by four friends, Potato Corner has grown from a network of small kiosks to sit-down diners around the Philippines.
And part of that growth came down to its franchising model that was launched in 2001.
During an interview with The Independent Investor earlier this year, one of Potato Corner’s co-founders, Jorge Wieneke confirmed this. He said, “We quickly expanded by giving family and friends franchises of the business.”
At the time, particularly in the Philippines, franchising was mostly done by bigger players in the field. So Potato Corner was “just winging it,” as he put it. And within three years, the brand opened its first 100 outlets.
This growth trajectory continued on, with the brand expanding into neighbouring Southeast Asian countries in 2007. By 2010, Potato Corner had landed in the United States of America.
Expanding internationally but with locals in mind
The popular fries brand was brought into Thailand by Pong in 2016 through franchising, where they now have 110 stores across 35 cities.
“Prior to the pandemic, we (Rocks Group) were just mostly focused on expanding in Thailand as it was still in a hyper-growth stage. But now we believe that we are ready to expand internationally,” Pong stated.
As such, with Thailand’s close proximity to us, opening new Potato Corner outlets in Malaysia seemed like a natural next step. After all, he explained that it would be easier to support the business in its early stages with HQ being nearby.
Pong also said that Rocks Group will be taking a similar approach to the one in Thailand, where products will be localised. This is in terms of offering localised flavours and products, such as choice of protein.
For example, Thailand introduced corn dogs and hotdogs into its menu in September this year. Similar to its fries and chicken bites, customers are able to personalise the flavours to their liking. Alongside that, Thailand’s menu also includes flavour options like Sweet Chili.
“As we come into this market, the most important thing is for us to try to understand and cater to local taste,” Pong stated.
With that in mind, they’ve hired a fully local management team to help better understand and navigate the Malaysian market.
The recipe to success is having good ratios
We learnt from Pong that similar to Bryan Loo’s approach with Tealive, Rocks Group believes that maintaining a healthy ratio of self-owned and franchise stores is key to sustaining a business.
As such, Pong and his team plan to expand Potato Corner through company-owned stores for now. Which basically means that they won’t recruit franchisees yet.
“We have ambitious expansion plans and you’ll see a lot more stores popping up around the Klang Valley next year,” he shared.
It’s possible that beyond that, you’ll probably find a Potato Corner outlet in Johor, Penang, Melaka, and maybe even Kedah down the road. When that happens, Pong hopes the brand will eventually turn into a well-loved snack locally, just as it is in the Philippines and Thailand now.
I’m quite curious to see how the brand will fare in Malaysia though as it has a strong competitor in the form of Sabah’s Happy Potato.
Happy Potato expanded to West Malaysia quite recently too, so there are currently two big brands for flavoured fries in the same space.
Competition aside, this trend implies that there’s a good demand currently for flavoured fries. And you know what, I can’t argue against its tasty and shareable appeal, so I won’t be surprised if Pong’s vision comes to fruition.
Featured Image Credit: Potato Corner