Article by Adrian Lowe for The West Australian, Wed 5 Jan 2022
Usually you’re rooster one day and feather duster the next, but the opposite is true of Mimma Battista’s success at Chicken Treat — which is something to crow about.
Chief executive of one of WA’s best-loved brands for almost eight years, a role she initially worried about because of its ingrained position in the State’s psyche, her transformation agenda has turned the once-tired takeaway chain around.
It’s had its best sales in two decades, and growth has tripled in the past three years.
Anyone with a fondness for a bit of takeaway chook may have noticed a change in Chicken Treat courtesy of Ms Battista’s initial “fix the stores, fix the food, fix the brand” strategy.
“The brand was tired; it was in need of revitalisation,” Ms Battista told The West Australian in a recent interview at the Banksia Grove store in Perth’s outer north. “We took the brand on a full brand transformation, from a new (store) look and feel to new uniforms, new food innovation, new packaging…
“It was contemporising the brand — taking it from the ‘70s and taking it to current and contemporary food and branding.
“Our rotisserie chicken is still the same way we cooked it 40 years ago, so that hasn’t changed, but what has changed is a new burger platform, we’ve changed the way we do fried chicken … bringing in more contemporary food and really pushing the edge on it.”
But the strong growth is just the start: another 29 Chicken Treat outlets are slated to open in the next 18 months. Thirteen of those will be on the East Coast, marking another bid for national expansion, though the first in in almost two decades and under current ownership.
In 2003 there were 73 stores under previous owners Australian Fast Foods but a lack of love at the corporate level led to stores closing and a revamp was in order — Ms Battista was preceded as chief executive by five men in five years.
She would prefer much of the credit be attributed to her executive team and individual franchise owners. Only two of the 58 Chicken Treat stores are company-owned.
Owned by Craveable Brands, Chicken Treat competes within its own stable with Oporto and Red Rooster. Then there’s Nando’s and KFC, making for a very crowded chicken sector within the quick-service restaurant industry. How does Chicken Treat stand out?
“We feel that we can dance between QSR and fast casual,” Ms Battista said. “I come from a restaurant background … being mindful of trends and how we can make that work in a QSR space, it’s really important to continue to focus on food innovation.
“The edge is about bringing different flavours, different food innovation, different formats to make it feel like we’re not a standard QSR … you can’t get a normal tomato sauce, you might get a cola barbecue (sauce) or a sriracha mayo … something the other QSRs don’t carry.”
Appointed in 2014, Ms Battista came to Chicken Treat after nine years as state manager for Gloria Jean’s Coffee and stints as director and operations manager in cafes and restaurants. She credits both roles for giving her the knowledge and experience to turn Chicken Treat around.
“It’s not about me. Why I say that is because my leadership team has been with me for seven years as well,” she said.
“It’s not about ego. It’s about the talent your surround yourself with — your team, franchise partners … and also the Craveable team. We’ve got some brilliant minds, fantastic industry knowledge. You pull that together and you can achieve some great stuff.”
To continue the stellar growth results, Ms Battista is pinning hopes on the finalisation of store refurbishments within the next year, more new menu items and 16 new WA stores, a mix of Perth and regional locations, as well as the 13 for the East Coast. The ACT is first up and the expansion will happen regardless of any further complications from COVID-19.
“It’s busy,” she said. “It’s exciting and it’s daunting all at the same time.
“Being able to take what’s been a parochial West Australian brand and turn it into a national brand is really exciting, not just for myself but for my team and our franchise partners.
“That’s the great part of running a WA-based business is having that opportunity. I don’t think too many CEOs would have that opportunity in this market.”
Franchise partners have been integral to success, and Ms Battista said the key was searching for “authentic” people who understood other people. Food experience is not a prerequisite.
“Key to any franchise business is being part of and owning the local community within the areas that they operate in,” she said, adding that was particularly strong in regional areas where customers would likely know or be familiar with a local operator. That, she said, helped Chicken Treat continue to be ingrained in WA and in local communities.
“We’ve had some ex-retailers coming out of different industries. There’s a passion that we’re looking for.”
Beyond the stellar results, Chicken Treat has endured because of its ingrained position in the WA psyche, Ms Battista believes.
“It’s a brand that’s been around since 1976, it has the heart of the community that has enjoyed it from when they were kids, to now grandparents taking their grandkids there.”