Philippines’ largest burger chain looks to expand into Canada

Following Filipino populations abroad

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Jollibee mascot

Jollibee’s jolly bee mascot at one of the chain’s Philippine locations (Joshua Bousel/Flickr/Creative Commons)

When its first location opens here next year, Canadians will finally be able to enjoy the distinctive pineapple-topped Aloha burger that has helped make Jollibee the Philippines’ largest fast-food chain. But the restaurant took its time expanding globally, having opened in the U.S. 15 years before considering coming north of the border.

Founded in 1975 as a single ice cream parlour just outside downtown Manila, Jollibee is today the flagship brand of a family-run empire, spanning 2,700 stores and nine brands around the world.

Jose Miñana, who heads U.S. operations for the company, says Jollibee initially limited its expansion to just those areas with large Filipino populations. But the company later decided to aggressively pursue “mainstream” clientele, opening branches in further-flung locations and tweaking recipes to cater to North American tastes.

The company is wildly successful in the Philippines, where there are now two Jollibees for every McDonald’s. But in the U.S., where Jollibee was a virtual unknown, the company struggled after opening its first location in 1998.

“That’s when we realized and learned our lesson that, hold on, we’re a totally unknown brand here, no matter how good we are back home,” Miñana says.

So over the past few years, the company has pulled back: reverting to original recipes, closing underperforming stores and retrenching in areas with large Filipino communities. Last fall, the company announced it would open its first Canadian store in Toronto in 2015.

“We should have entered Canada way before, but we had to try and find our way in getting our brand well in the U.S.”

Lovell Sarreal, an analyst for Maybank covering Jollibee in the Philippines, says the company’s return to conservative but steady expansion is good for investors. U.S. operations are now profitable, accounting for about 5% of Jollibee’s total sales.

“Eventually growth in the Philippines will slow down, and to sustain the high growth of the company, you have to expand overseas,” he says.

After opening its doors in Toronto, Jollibee hopes to expand to other cities in Canada—like Vancouver and Winnipeg—with high Filipino populations.

Unlike in the Philippines, where Jollibee is a franchise, all of its North American stores are company-owned. Although franchises would allow Jollibee to expand faster, Miñana says that’s not the point: “We want to enter there with the Jollibee brand the way we want it done—really right.”

15 comments on “Philippines’ largest burger chain looks to expand into Canada

  1. how about Montreal? it has a large filipino populations too. besides Ottawa is pretty close to Montreal where there are a lot of filipino living there. I hope they will open the door for Montreal too.

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    • I doubt it. Quebec is really strict when it comes to these things.

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  2. Hopefully here in Winnipeg as it has 65,000 Filipinos living here… We truly miss the BEE….

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    • It’s not only Filipinos who like Jollibee….I love the stores in the Philippines…the Champ burger and the cute girls there…wish we had one here in Vancouver…

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  3. Hi there, can you please give me some details on how we can franchise Jollibee in Winnipeg? me and my family are very itnerested!

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  4. Everyone is heading west anyway…why not start in Alberta…Calgary or Edmonton doesn’t matter where.

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  5. Jollibee pls come in Calgary and here in Lethbridge too. Miss u Jollibee!

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  6. wow that’s great! If you open one here in Montreal that would be even better but if not we can still drive to Toronto
    every time we go to Jersey City we always go to Jollibee to eat and it’s always busy
    Love it!!!!!!!!!! looking forward to it……..

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  7. Out of curiosity I ate at Jollibee in the Philippines and got violent food poisoning. I hope they plan on being more safety-aware here.

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  8. YOU KNOW WHAT ! .. DONT EVER GET THE CHANCE TO OPEN IN V.ANCOUVER..WHY ?.. YOUR ANALYSTS AREN’T THINKING..VANCOUVER PEOPLE GO TO SEATTLE FOR A REASON.. TO JOLLIBEE..YA.. WE GO THERE FOR ABOUT LESS THAN 3 HRS. DRIVE AND AT THE SAME TIME GO SHOPPING .. IF YOU DO OPEN IN VANCOUVER , JOLLIBEE SEATTLE (TUKWILA) WILL BE AFFECTED..YA… MOST OF VANCOUVER PEOPLE PASS BY JOLLIBEE SEATTLE TO EAT THERE…THERE WILL BE NO MORE EXCITEMENT FOR JOLLIBEE SEATTLE.. AND SAME THING FOR SEATTLE PEOPLE THEY GO TO VANCOUVER TO BUY OUR FAMOUS PORK BUNS HERE.. YOU WILL JUST RUIN THE BUSINESS FOR BOTH…

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    • !. I never heard of an famous pork buns. 2. Why would anyone with a life drive 6 hours there and back to have a burger? I hope Jollibee comes to Vancouver…..your comments are so stupid!

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  9. THE BEST JOLLIBEE BRANCH THAT I’VE BEEN IS BEVERLY HILLS BLVD.. SOO GOOD.. BUT OTHERS ARE HORRIBLE.. TOOO SALTY.. SO COME TO THINK OF IT..

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  10. they should open to in calgary Ab because their is lots of filipino too…and im pretty sure we will love to have a jollibee here to open

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  11. Filipinos here Calgary, Alberta would be very happy to have Jollibee. There are lots of Filipino here, Its kind of normal to see Filpino in the street now a days not like 10 years ago. And I would be happy to see Jollibee mascot in the Stampede parade ;) I miss Jolly hotdog and chicken joy ummmmm

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  12. Very much interested about Jollibee franchising in Vancouver Canada….I have been in business and used to owned 5 different businesses in Vancouver. Operates and managed,worked at the hospitals,hotels,and college university cafeteria,including provincial and federal courts cafeteria.Many,many experienced operating and managing of food services as well as catering service.

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