It’s no surprise that the Philippines, with more than 1,500 franchise brands in operation, is touted as “the franchise development hub of Asia.” Leading global investment and banking firm Goldman Sachs stated that the Philippines would be in its Next Eleven economies poised for growth, projecting that it would be the 14th largest economy by 2050 (basing it on the 6.3 percent real GDP in 2015).
This is attributed to the country’s open economy, strategic business location, and business process outsourcing industry. With the unstoppable growth of the franchise industry, it isn’t a wonder that some local brands have crossed the borders and made a name in the international scene. Here are 11 Filipino food brands that were able to successfully establish (and grow) overseas.
With over 1,100 stores in the Philippines and more than 200 locations overseas, Potato Corner has found a way to grow its small kiosk back in 1992. The brand is now operating in over 100 countries, making its name in cities like New York, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, and Sydney.
As a “small hole in the wall,” the microbusiness learned to adapt as it expanded across the globe. Examples that prove its customer-driven approach is the introduction of its cinnamon-flavored fries in America as well as larb and wasabi flavored variants in Thailand and Hong Kong, respectively.
Known as “The World’s Best Flavored Fries,” Potato Corner started with an investment of P35,000 from each of its business partners (there are four) before eventually growing it into a brand with annual sales of P1 billion. Its growth could be attributed to the franchising model. CEO Jose Magsaysay believes in marketing the business to kids, saying that the same children who patronized them when they were starting are now their partners simply because they love the brand.
This small bakeshop that opened in 1966, whose namesake from a fairytale became a resounding brand for the Philippines, is now a global enterprise. Goldilocks has tapped the market in the US and in Southeast Asia and is also planning to expand to the Middle East—proving that there really is “gold” and “luck” in their business.
Its freshly baked pastries and cakes were initially prepared in the family kitchen. From two cakes on display and first day sold-out sales at P574, it began its franchising program in 1991. Today, Goldilocks offers not just desserts and baked goods but Filipino meals such as fresh lumpia, palabok, and dinuguan. The business also acquired the Philippine franchise of Domino’s Pizza.
Bibingkinitan has proven that bibingka isn’t only in demand during the holidays. What Bibingkinitan banks on is the bite-sized serving portions (the other half of the business’ name, balingkinitan meaning small or petite) of this heritage product, making it a year-round food offering.
Started in 2006 with an initial investment of P100,000, Bibingkinitan owner Richard Sanz’s original idea was to start a beverage business centered on tea. But after seeing that Filipinos were more inclined to coffee, he thought of a better way to tap the local market, pairing bibingka with kapeng barako and calling it BibiKape.
Aside from the usual margarine-topped bibingka, Sanz also introduced flavors like macapuno, ube, pastillas, and peanut butter. The brand now has more than 200 stores nationwide as well as in Dubai, Qatar, and various countries in Asia.
Chef Tony’s Popcorn
From 16 flavors to a total of 31 (including localized flavors for outside markets), Chef Tony’s Popcorn is all about innovation and deviating from products Filipinos are usually associated with.
For Tony Elepaño, a brand can’t grow globally if it will only sell to its kababayans (fellow countrypeople). His products, which were first sold in a P20,000 cart back in 2005, became a popular choice in airports and as an alternative to other popcorn brands that were too sweet for some consumers (particularly in Indonesia).
Before the brand became the popular gourmet popcorn it is today, Elepaño found himself in debt of up to P15 million in his previous restaurant venture. When he realized that being a big spender didn’t do the business any good, even forcing him to close down several of his branches, he started from the bottom (working under his father) until he was able to save up to start his popcorn stand idea. Today, Chef Tony’s Popcorn is in Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Dubai, and Indonesia.
Cocoa Monster started out as a supplier of raw materials produced from cacao beans for hotels and restaurants here and abroad in 1983. They started to sell chocolates in 2013 and during the height of chocolate-dipped mangoes, the owners knew they had a shot in the market.
What made the brand stand out in the international market, especially in South Korea and Japan where aesthetics are equally valued as taste, is its neat and crisp packaging. Among its products are sugar-free chocolates, assorted dried fruits dipped in chocolate, and cocoa powders. Cocoa Monster is now exporting across the US and Europe, proudly selling Filipino bean-to-bar products.
Carmen’s Best Ice Cream
To utilize milk that couldn’t be sold right away, Laguna-based farmer Paco Magsaysay decided to incorporate it into ice cream, not to go head-to-head with big ice cream companies but instead to serve a niche. Because his product is named after his daughter, this pushes Magsaysay to never shortchange the quality of his ice cream. From chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla, Carmen’s Best now has over 38 flavors. Its bestsellers are salted caramel, butter pecan, and malted milk. Just before 2019 ended, Carmen’s Best Ice Cream opened its first international store in Singapore.
From a family’s secret tapa recipe comes a fast food eatery that provides meal options other than hamburgers, hotdogs, and pizza. Tapa King currently has over 100 stores and has already opened branches in Dubai and Singapore. Since it started in 1987, Tapa King has been serving its trademark beef tapa with fried egg and garlic rice.
Tapa is usually made from beef strips. In other parts of the country, deer, carabao, and wild boar are used as well. The process of making tapa varies depending on the area. The Tagalogs simply season the meat with sea salt while the Pampangueños ferment it using ground rice, sugar, and salt. The Ilocanos marinate theirs in salt, garlic, vinegar, and pepper before drying it under the sun.
Yellow Cab Pizza
In 2001, the idea of bringing New York-style pizza to the Philippines gave birth to Yellow Cab Pizza. It’s known for the signature pizza and pasta dishes as well as the famous yellow scooter delivery system. Now, over 130 branches nationwide are operating; Yellow Cab also has branches in the US, Guam, Malaysia, and the Middle East. It is also successful in being the first pizza chain to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
When Maximo Gimenez befriended American soldiers after World War II, they kept stopping by his home to get a drink or two. Because they came back frequently, they insisted that they pay for what they were consuming. This led Gimenez to start his café, initially serving chicken, steak, and drinks.
Later on becoming “the house that fried chicken built,” Max’s Restaurant’s special chicken recipe has reached countries like the US, Australia, and Canada. Soon enough the restaurant added more Filipino dishes to the menu such as sinigang, kare-kare, and lumpiang ubod. The brand believes that its growth is a result of a personal connection to food, how it is deeply rooted in Philippine cuisinem and how the group is translating culture into its food. In 1998, Max’s Restaurant opened its doors to franchising.
What started out as a P350,000 ice cream parlor franchise and hamburger joint in 1975 is now the largest fast food chain in the country and is fast becoming a leading world franchise.
When then-22-year-old owner Tony Tan Caktiong saw that people were patronizing their hamburgers more than the ice cream, he decided to capitalize on the trend and decided to offer what is known today as “Yumburger.” It was in 1979 when they had their first franchise. Caktiong decided to go with the image of a bee with a smile to represent its brand because of its hardworking quality.
Jollibee became a fast food giant when it opened its first international chain in Brunei in 1987—the first food outlet outside the Philippines. Currently, Jollibee continues to expand worldwide with over 1,200 branches in places like Europe, Asia, and North America. It has also acquired other famous brands such as Greenwich, Chowking, and Red Ribbon.
What started out as a small store selling men’s T-shirts has now reached more than 22 countries, including the US, Canada, Japan, China, Egypt, Singapore, and Myanmar (where it recently opened a flagship store). Since its opening in 1987, Bench has seen growth from being a fashion brand to a lifestyle brand.
Suyen Corporation, its holding company, has set its eyes on global retail. It currently serves as a local distributor for numerous international brands like American Eagle, Australian furniture line Foscarini, and Korean cosmetic and skincare manufacturer Face Shop. To this day, the brand believes that what sets it apart from others is how it brings the feeling of home in its products, which is something you can’t put a price on.
In 2018, Bench, in partnership with Eric Dee of Foodee Global Concepts, ventured into the food business when it opened Bench Café where it serves creative versions of local dishes as well as the signature white halo-halo in its Bonifacio Global City and Greenbelt 3 branches.