El Pollo Loco is introducing dipping sauces to entice diners to buy more combo meals amid fierce competition among fried chicken rivals, and a drop in restaurant transactions.
The Costa Mesa-based chain added three “Loco Kickin’” dipping sauces to the menu this week. The sauces, Chili Lime, Tropical Habanero, and Chipotle BBQ, were created to pair with the chain’s citrus-marinated chicken. They are free and available for a limited time with the purchase of any $20 Loco Kickin’ Chicken family meal as well as with any two-, three- or four-piece chicken combo meal.
The menu tweak comes as American fast food eaters have become obsessed with fried chicken sandwiches, especially those offering a bit of heat. According to menu research firm Datassential, fried chicken sandwiches are on 8 percent more menus today than they were four years ago.
El Pollo Loco’s dipping sauces appear to be a countermove as the chain has been hit by stiff competition from Raising Cane’s, Popeye’s, and Chick-fil-A.
Heather Gardea, executive chef at El Pollo Loco, said in a statement: “Whatever your style, we have the sauce.”
Two years ago, El Pollo Loco responded to the fried chicken frenzy by offering an LTO of breaded and fried chicken tenders.
Today, the company is pivoting by returning to it roots through menu offerings and reimaging stores. In December 2016, the company debuted the new Vision Design concept, which scraps bright red and yellow colors for rustic hues of gray, white and red.
In March, the company debuted a new black, white and red corporate logo inspired by the chicken chain’s Los Angeles roots. As of March 28, El Pollo Loco had 58 restaurants (new restaurants and remodels) sporting the Vision Design look. Of those, 30 were new, ground up restaurants. The company said the Vision look “elevates our guest’s experience and shows the pride we have in the high quality of food that we serve.”
The chain could use the boost.
For the first quarter ended March 28, same store sales at company owned stores decreased 2 percent, driven by a 1.7 drop in transactions and a 0.3 percent decrease in average check. Same-store sales at franchise units declined .4 percent. The company, which has about 450 locations, had net income of $2.5 million, compared to $4.9 million for the same quarter a year ago.