MARRYBROWN, Malaysia’s own fried chicken recipe, is clearly a Malaysia Boleh success.
Undeterred by stiff competition from the 2 American giants – McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) – on its home turf, the home-grown fast food chain thrives in niche markets of people with “localised taste buds”.
Their strategy, from the early days since husband and wife Lawrence and Nancy Liew started their business in a little outfit in Johor Baru, has proven to be a winning formula.
When Marrybrown started in 1981, there were only KFC and A&W in the local scene, joined later by McDonald's.
The couple read the market quite well: city folks who are routinely exposed to western culture feast on McDonald's and KFC all the time. These people know the taste of mayonnaise, tartar sauce, salsa, gherkin and the works all too well. But a larger number of people in the country, while curious enough to try out Western stuff such as hamburgers and fried chicken, simply just can’t leave out chilly sauce in their meals.
Since this market segment was ignored by the Americans, Marrybrown started to offer an alternative – Western food with localised fare.
“We know our strength and weaknesses. Our strategy has not only worked in our favour, it has also proven that it can work for our franchisees who want to start a business in smaller towns,” Lawrence said.
He admitted that Marrybrown attracts a different crowd compared with the other international fast food players that mostly go after the trendier, and taste-wise, more sophisticated city folks. And banking on that number one guideline, Marrybrown’s outlets have mostly been placed in secondary towns, where people still spend money on outside food and adventurous enough to try something different from the normal staple.
In Kulai (Johor) and Sibu (Sarawak) and in the high traffic Johor Baru main bus station, Marrybrown serves its fried chicken with local food such as nasi lemak and porridge.
Saying that the food business is a question of common sense, Liew had predicted that local taste is still dominant and people would prefer rice to potatoes in their main meal.
Marrybrown was the first Western menu fast food chain to introduce rice in 1995. That move was followed much later by McDonald's with its chicken porridge and A&W with its white rice helping. KFC, through its local subsidiary Ayamas, is also moving aggressively in the chicken and rice meal market.
“We believe there is no business like the food business in Malaysia,” he said adding that before embarking on this venture, the company did thorough research on why some international fast food chains did not last long despite having a good product. After identifying its niche market, the Liews moved on to increase their market share through the opening of more outlets. But unlike their main competitors who had the financial muscle, Marrybrown is still a privately owned company. Liew said the way forward is through franchising, which Marrybrown is actively promoting in its local and overseas venture.
Marrybrown operates more than 100 outlets in Malaysia and overseas; 90% are franchised outlets.
In Malaysia, the franchises are offered to individuals and overseas, a master franchisor is selected to identify and set up more outlets in each selected country. Marrybrown has established its presence in China, India, the Middle East and Sri Lanka.
Target markets are Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia, South Africa and the Philippines.
Like its location in Malaysia, the choice of countries for Marrybrown mirrored the local niche, where hamburgers and fried chicken items are offered together with local fare.
In Arab countries, the combination is chicken with pilaf rice. In India, where most of the outlets are located in the Southern part, it offers chicken and vegetarian meals.
And again, developed countries are not on Marrybrown’s target list. It did not do well in Singapore - the 2 outlets there have closed down.