POTATO CORNER's first-ever XP Store at Glorietta 4

Potato Corner expands beyond kiosks and gets experimental

FOR Potato Corner, fries aren’t just a food: they’re a state of mind.

We saw this on the fourth of July, when they opened their new concept store, Potato Corner XP (“XP” meaning “experience”) in Makati’s Glorietta 4. Their mascot, a giant potato named Poco, welcomed guests. Aside from fries (and new products like fried chicken skin and a fries sundae with soft-serve ice cream), Potato Corner merchandise was also up for grabs, including a miniature Poco one can attach to one’s shoulder.

“We want it to elevate the Potato Corner brand, now that we’re expanding both domestically and also internationally,” said Mathew Whang, Marketing Director for Potato Corner in an interview with BusinessWorld. “We want to elevate that brand experience to show the world that we’re not only just a kiosk brand now. We want to be a bigger player.”

Potato Corner was founded in 1992 by Jose Magsaysay, Jr., Ricky Montelibano, Danny Bermejo, and Jorge Wieneke, selling fries out of a cart. It later expanded into a franchising model, reaching several countries beyond Philippine shores. In 2021, it was announced that Shakey’s Pizza Asia Ventures, Inc. (the Philippine franchise of Shakey’s Pizza) would acquire the brand, and the deal was finalized in 2022.

By Mr. Whang’s count, they now have more than 1,600 outlets nationwide, and 300 outlets internationally, stretching from Myanmar to the United Kingdom. As for the XP concept, they’re opening a total of seven this year.

While the franchise model has definitely helped Potato Corner’s reach, Mr. Whang says, “I think it’s a showcase of how people really have grown with the brand. We’ve been here in the Philippines a long time.

“I think it’s become one of the well-loved brands. People are really clamoring for us. And even for our franchise partners, they’re always asking us to help look for new sites, for new places where we can put up more stores,” he said.

As for the changes that have come since the acquisition by Shakey’s, he said, “One thing we recognize was there is an opportunity to make things more efficient, more systematized. The previous owners did a very good job, right? They were able to grow the brand and get us to that level of iconic-ness here in the Philippines. We just wanted to build on that… if we want to do global, if we want to take it to the next level, we cannot stop looking for ways to improve.”

That includes using XP as a sort of innovation center, with new flavors introduced there. On July 4, they showed off their samgyupsal, onion butter, salted caramel, and spicy jalapeño flavors. Asked if they would be introduced to their other outlets, he said, “Soon — if they do well here.”

And it isn’t just fries: Potato Corner has managed to hold a place in consumers’ consciousness through memes, commercials, and merch. Mr. Whang says, “That pop culture element is something that we want to take advantage of more. It’s only recently that Potato Corner started to advertise on social media. That’s part of the elevation in terms of how we want to take the brand to the next level. Previously, we didn’t advertise. It was very low-key. Now, we want to really expand people’s awareness and love for the brand.”

But in the end, it’s still the fries. “We make sure there’s consistency in the cooking time, the quality of the holding; storage. It’s always cooked from freezer to frier. There’s no thawing time,” said Mr. Whang. He, however, declined to give the secret of their flavor powders (as expected). “The product category’s generic, but the execution on the flavor; the way we cook it, it’s always cooked fresh.

“Everyone can have a cheese flavor, but the way that we make the cheese flavor, that’s what sets us apart.”

Potato Corner XP is located on the third floor of Glorietta 4 in Makati. — Joseph L. Garcia