In her first-ever in-depth interview, Helen Moore offers her views on the Portuguese chicken chain’s future growth plans and learnings from the past six months in the seat.
Helen Moore started with Oporto in May, just as things were starting to emerge from lockdown in NSW. She felt very fortunate to be joining a QSR business at this time.
“When you go into a pandemic or a recessionary environment, it dawns on you quite quickly that food is the right industry to be in,” she says. “I think we’re in a really privileged position in the QSR (quick-service restaurant) space, and Oporto is well positioned to appeal to customers wanting an alternative from cooking at home, a more expensive restaurant meal, or traditional QSR players.”
Despite obvious challenges across the industry, she considers the timing and the unusual environment as a “blessing” - both from a personal and professional standpoint.
“I’ve got two small children, and I was returning to work from maternity leave. My second child was just about to turn one. In some ways, COVID has totally normalized the idea of working flexibly,” she says.
Barriers were broken too, Moore adds. Initially unable to meet people in their office, she spent more time in their restaurants that were permitted to trade, getting to know the chain’s franchisees and support team.
“You can really find out who people are, what they do and how they add value to our restaurants,” she explains. “Meeting people virtually can also be a bit more human, because you can see their home, meet their partners, kids and pets as they pass by the screen!”
Moore joined Oporto with a wealth of experience including three years as General Manager for Convenience Development in Caltex, where she and her team rolled out the petroleum brand’s The Foodary concept, which included developing an in-house convenience fresh food and coffee range, and partnering with a number of well-known QSR brands.
Prior to that, Helen gained experience as CFO (chief financial officer) of artisan sourdough wholesaler Sonoma Baking Company, leading new category development for Woolworths Supermarkets and in various investment banking roles with Deutsche Bank and J.P. Morgan.
Moore revealed Oporto's plan is to launch 15 to 20 restaurants in Australia over three years, aiming for a majority of them to have drive-thru capability. Photo: Supplied
The importance of multi-channel accelerated
She expected off-premise channels such as delivery, drive-thru and curb-side pickup to be a significant part of the Portuguese chicken chain’s future. So for Moore, it was more about ensuring Oporto kept up with the trends accelerated by the pandemic.
“When we look to build new sites, I think we’ll be looking quite heavily towards drive-thru sites or sites that have the opportunity to do delivery or curb-side [pickup] because it has sort of step changed the trend that we already knew that was happening to being something that’s actually very real now,” she explains. “It has given a little more ‘oomph’ around moving forward into a multi-channel business.”
Majority of Oporto drive-thru and shop front stores remained open across Australia through the pandemic with a handful of restaurants temporarily closing across food courts, airports and event locations, particularly those in Victoria. The vast majority of Oporto’s restaurants have now reopened.
After experiencing a “lull” between March and April, Moore says the chain has experienced “double digit” like-for-like growth. (“There is a direct correlation, but possibly no causation, between me starting and trading results really turning around,” she jokingly adds.)
Drive-thru sales are “outstanding”, whilst delivery sales have also increased significantly across the network, accelerating a trend Oporto was already seeing.
“Pre-COVID, we were actually going through a period where we needed to really push drive-thru sales. Suddenly, drive-thru as a channel has really come into its own for us, and delivery is absolutely critical.”
All states, Moore adds, are in positive growth, with SA, WA and QLD particularly strong due to lighter restrictions. All traditional dayparts are in growth as well.
Moore revealed their three-year plan to launch 15 to 20 restaurants a year in Australia, aiming for a majority of them to have drive-thru capability. Restaurants in shopfronts and food courts will be considered on their merits. Oporto is also looking to launch the brand into the Middle East, with its first site in Dubai set to launch early 2021.
Potential of dark kitchens in seasonal or new locations
But how about dark or cloud kitchens? Moore said she’s “very open-minded” about it, seeing its potential in seasonal to new locations to test consumer demand. Sister brand Chicken Treat already dabbled in this space, having partnered with Deliveroo in Melbourne.
“Some examples could be beachside locations where in the summer, you might trade through takeaway and dine-in. But in the winter, you could just do a dark kitchen at the back...We would definitely look at doing dark kitchens, it’s just not super high on the priority list,” she says.
“We could potentially do dark kitchens in collaboration with our sister brands. We can take a Red Rooster site and put an Oporto at the back or vice versa. So that’s something we’re talking about, but we haven’t landed on a location to do that.”
Extending core menu items into different formats
On product development, Moore - who “loves the brand” so much she has attempted to make Oporto’s signature Bondi burger at home (“I’ve tried, it just isn't the same even if you buy our chilli sauce” she reveals.”) - is excited about Oporto’s new salads and bowls, launching soon, and also about upcoming trials of a new breakfast range.
She stressed, however, that they are doubling down on their core menu items by extending them into different formats - exemplified by their current Rappa campaign (Oporto favourites in a wrap format).
“It gives customers that element of familiarity and comfort, but with something new and different,” she explains.
The business has also seen a rise in average spend per customer since the pandemic started, making them think about how to sell more bundle offers without diminishing speed of service. Moore looks at it as an opportunity to do more tailored marketing to drive more foot traffic, especially for customers that are more price conscious at this time.
Targeted offers through their loyalty programme is also on Moore’s mind, part of a plan to continue the momentum they have gained so far amidst COVID-19.
“If it’s a customer that loves discounts, we’ll give them a discount every so often. If it’s a customer that loves trying new things, we’ll give them an opportunity to try new things. We work with our internal consumer insights and digital teams as well as agencies to understand a little bit more broadly what our segments are looking for,” she says, adding they also acquire insights from their delivery partners.
Moore with Oporto founder Antonio Cerqueira, who continues to work with the brand as an ambassador and consultant. Photo: Supplied
Innovations aligned with customer expectations
Learning from the initiatives she saw during her Caltex stint, Moore shares that innovation should be done with customer expectations in mind.
“My biggest learning was that...you have to focus on the big things customers are actually ready for from a behavioral perspective and double down on it. So some of the innovation
you’ll see coming out through Oporto over the next six to 12 months is actually not groundbreaking. It’s things like having a really great digital menu solution for drive-thru. We won’t be the first QSR players to do that and we won’t be the last,” she stresses.
“But we need to make sure that we’re in the game and that we’re competing. We will be launching our own e-commerce platform, which gives customers the option to order directly
through us and use Flame Rewards. We’ll also be looking to launch some catering options through that platform.”
Mobile ordering options via QR codes or their app is also something Oporto will look to enable, Moore adds.
“We’re not particularly excited about ordering kiosks for our brand, we’re more excited about...allowing customers to sit at a table and order using their own device. So, whether that’s through a QR code, or just directing them to the app, that’s something that we would look to enable.”
Franchisees keen to continue growing with Oporto
“We’re in a really good place. We’ve got very positive franchise partners. Certainly when I talk about that growth of 15 to 20 new stores a year, there’s plenty of franchisees putting their hands up and wanting to be part of that growth programme, and that tells me we have a very engaged franchise network that is excited about the future,” she says.
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