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Kim Chiu spices up chao fan

CHAO FAN (fried rice) gets a makeover by Chowking with the release of its Spicy Chao Fan variant. No less than actress Kim Chiu feasted on it during its formal launch on July 3.

During the launch in Enderun, Ms. Chiu, a Chowking endorser for the past six years, eschewed chopsticks to eat out of her own cardboard box of rice. She said, “Kapag rice, ginagamitan ko talaga ng spoon, para makuha ko talaga lahat ng nasa loob. Kasi kapag chopstick, parang ang liit ng kuha, parang nakakapayat. Dapat binubuo mo para sakto iyong sarap. (With rice, I really use a spoon, so I can get everything inside. With chopsticks, it’s like you don’t get much, it makes me feel like I’m losing weight. You have to get it all to get the taste),” she said. Asked what her favorite toppings were, she said, “Lahat (all of them)!”

During a trip that she posted about on her Instagram stories, she bought both the siomai (dumplings) topping, as well as an extra order of lumpiang shanghai (Filipino-style spring rolls). “Para siyang extra treat for me (it’s like an extra treat for me),” she said.

The new spicy flavor of the chao fan is just perfect for her, since she said that she likes to put the extra chili oil used for the dumplings in her chao fan. “Para siyang party sa bibig mo. May spicy, may malasa, maraming nangyayari (it’s like a party in your mouth. There’s something spicy, something tasty; a lot of things are happening),” said the actress after a spoonful of the fried rice.

Jonathan de Quiroz, Chowking’s Brand Director for Chao Fan and Brand Operations said in a speech that since its release on June 5 — almost a month before the formal launch — they had already sold one million bowls of the spicy variant.

“On June 5, we made Spicy Chao Fan available nationwide. We have more than 500 stores, all of them offering chao fan. We ourselves are very much surprised with the reception. We were pegging something smaller. We just started the TV ad last week, but even starting June 5, the sales were already there. Just making it available nationwide, that’s the secret,” he told BusinessWorld in an interview.

Speaking of secrets, we asked Mr. De Quiroz if there are any secret ingredients in their chao fan (one million bowls in less than a month must mean it’s delicious). “It’s cooked in the wok, which is a very intricate process. We make sure our chefs are really trained for that,” he said.

Deliveries also helped boost the sales of their fried rice, their bestselling product. However, it took the COVID-19 pandemic for the brand to boost their delivery game. “Chowking was not so much known for its delivery and even availability in aggregators like Grabfood and Food Panda. But during the pandemic, we made that pivot. It’s actually working for us well. A big portion of our sales are actually coming from deliveries,” he said.

While Chowking, a brand acquired by the Jollibee Group in 2000, has a kitchen devoted to R&D, Mr. De Quiroz says that a part of their recipes is based on consumer surveys. “We do a lot of consumer tests,” he said. As for Spicy Chao Fan, the recipe was developed for a very specific customer group. “We found that there’s a big segment of the Filipino market that is into spicy (food): more adventurous thrill-seeking eaters.”

During the launch, Ms. Chiu talked about the #ShareTheSpice challenge. To join the contest, one buys the chao fan, posts about it on any social media platform with the hashtag #ShareTheSpice and #SpicyChaoFan, then tags two friends. One gets the chance to win gift certificates and special prizes from Chowking.

Mr. De Quiroz points to their new brand campaign, called “Tikman Ang Bagong Chowking Sarap” (Taste the New Chowking Goodness). “There are a lot of exciting products that you should watch out for,” he said, giving a timeframe of about a year. This also means more store openings in the coming year: “550-plus sounds like a good network, but definitely there’s a lot more clamor in other areas,” he said.

Chowking president Ken Lingan said in English and Filipino, “Our vision is not just to become the largest Chinese food brand. Our vision is we want to be the most-loved Chinese fast food brand in the world.” — Joseph L. Garcia

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