From Bangsamoro to Canada: Potato Corner grows in areas with low COVID-19 cases

The food industry is among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. But some companies like popular snacks chain Potato Corner are fighting to defy the trend – and going even more global despite the headwinds.

How? By closely monitoring the numbers and targeting areas with low COVID-19 infections.

In an interview with Rappler, Potato Corner chief executive officer Jose Magsaysay Jr said that company is set to open its first store in Vancouver, Canada, this September, as well as in Winnipeg, capital of the Canadian province of Manitoba.

Potato Corner has a store in Edmonton in Canada's Alberta province, which Magsaysay said has delivered "record sales" despite the pandemic.

Magsaysay said the business is also doing well in Myanmar, with the franchise holder there already asking for the master franchise, or exclusive rights to develop the franchise within the area.

"Imagine during this crisis, he will say that. That's an indication that business is doing well outside the Philippines. Our franchisees are the ones saying, 'I want the master franchise now,' like in Canada, because they see the potential," Magsaysay said.

Still gloomy

While there are spaces for growth overseas, there are also plenty of threats.

For instance, Potato Corner's 120 stores in Indonesia are open, but sales have plummeted. Indonesia ranks 2nd in number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia, just trailing behind the Philippines. (READ: Unlike Philippines, Indonesia developing own coronavirus vaccine)

In the Philippines' epicenter Metro Manila, around 70% of Potato Corner stores have opened up, but sales and operations are expected to go down to as low as levels last seen in 2016.

There are around 700 kiosks in the Philippines, with over 30% located in Metro Manila.

Magsaysay also admitted that the company is currently "rightsizing" or laying off employees, though he did not specify the number of those affected.

"[The] Philippines will take a while to grow because of the way the government does its decision-making. But you cannot blame the government for that as well, because this is unchartered waters, this is a crisis," Magsaysay said.

"If everything's in chaos, our company will have to move in chaos also. So we have to map what government is doing…make calculated decisions while trying to move around that chaotic atmosphere."

For Metro Manila, Potato Corner is pursuing e-commerce and home selling to rake in some revenues. (READ: Potato Corner now offers ready-to-cook fries, powder flavoring for delivery)

While the capital region is still struggling to recover, Potato Corner is looking at provinces and cities with low COVID-19 cases.

Magsaysay said they have been getting "thousands" of inquiries, as they offer better business packages factoring in the pandemic's impact.

He added that areas like the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao are likely growth areas. 

"Stop thinking of Metro Manila only. That's not where the heart of many revenue streams are starting to grow in many parts of the country. We'll start looking at these provinces now or these regions that are starting to grow already," he said. – Rappler.com

Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.

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