Case study: Chicken Cottage: the mainstream Muslim brand
Halal fast-food brand Chicken Cottage aims to be inclusive of its customers, whether Muslim or not. The East-meets-West chain has been so successful in attracting a wide base of customers that it now exists in many areas that do not have a large Muslim population.
The first Chicken Cottage store opened in 1994 in Wembley, North London. There are now about 140 restaurants, with plans for 300 by 2015.
So why has this halal brand managed to break into the mainstream? According to Chicken Cottage franchise co-ordinator Sadaf Kazi, this is because the brand has always aimed for both Muslim and non-Muslim customers.
She says: “What we mean by an inclusive brand is that because of the halal perception, lots of consumers might think we’re catering to the Muslim community only. But, in fact, we are catering for everyone.”
Dr Paul Temporal, associate fellow at Said Business School and project director on Islamic branding and marketing, says the takeaway chain is rare among its halal peers for its mainstream appeal across UK consumers.
He adds: “Islamic brands are mostly going to be niche players in Britain. Chicken Cottage is a halal food brand but it has made itself appear very local.”
The challenge with many Islamic food brands is that non-Muslim consumers believe that halal is simply not relevant to them. The concept of halal preparation is not well understood among a non-Muslim audience, so Chicken Cottage has chosen not to highlight it as part of its in-store marketing. Instead, the word “halal” is incorporated into the store’s logo.
That way, both Muslims and non-Muslims are attracted to the restaurants, argues Kazi. “A lot of our competitors promote halal everywhere, but we don’t do that. It’s incorporated into the logo and that is it, and we don’t see the need to double advertise it. Everyone who comes into Chicken Cottage already knows that we are halal.”
While other halal takeaway brands choose to promote this aspect of their business, Chicken Cottage focuses on the food. This investment in product development allows the chain to keep ahead of the competition, argues Kazi. New products are introduced on a regular basis.
This strategy has allowed the franchise business to move beyond the UK. It now has outlets scattered around the globe including Pakistan, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Slovakia.
Any chains that do open in non-Muslim areas have to compete with other food brands on price and product, argues Kazi. Because of this, the brand is not trapped by being seen as a niche player because it plays a role in the highly competitive takeaway sector.
The success of Chicken Cottage has not gone unnoticed. Mainstream global brands such as KFC and McDonald’s have themselves introduced a halal offering in highly populated Muslim areas.
This is an area ripe for expansion, thinks founder of integrated media agency Muxlim, Mohamed El-Fatatry, who says that food brands need to do more to appeal to a wide audience.
“We need to work in both directions. Mainstream is going halal but I also feel that halal needs to go mainstream.” It seems Chicken Cottage, the Islamic high street takeaway, is already ahead of the curve.