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Jollibee seeks Mexican fast-food chain in global expansion drive

Philippines' quick-serve restaurant leader wants deeper US presence

A Jollibee restaurant in Manila. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

MANILA -- Leading Philippine fast-food group Jollibee Foods wants to put nachos and burritos on the company's menu, continuing its expansion efforts targeting foreign diners.

Jollibee looks to invest in a Mexican restaurant chain this year, the group's leaders said Friday, part of its ambition to be among the five largest fast-food companies in the world. Jollibee, which added premium burgers, coffee and Chinese noodles to its portfolio in recent years, boasts annual sales of around $3.4 billion.

Talks have begun with multiple undisclosed parties, Jollibee founder and Chairman Tony Tan Caktiong told reporters after the group shareholders meeting.

"We are looking at a few of them," Tan Caktiong said. "Either we acquire [on our own] or work with a group. We are flexible, and we want to play in that category."

His brother, CEO Ernesto Tanmantiong, cited various options. "We could start with [a small company] and we grow it, or it could be a medium-size company," he said. "What we are looking at is the potential, because the Mexican market in the U.S. is huge."

Jollibee, which outsells Western competitors like McDonald's in the Philippines, said earlier it was prepared to buy a $1 billion foreign company to accelerate growth. The Philippine group sees the U.S. and China as pillars of its global expansion.

The fast-food company enjoys a bigger serving of U.S. assets, taking over Denver-based Smashburger early this year by raising its stake to 85% from 40%. The deal represented Jollibee's largest acquisition to date.

Jollibee's portfolio consists of a dozen brands, including the namesake chain, and the addition of Smashburger lifted the share of overseas sales to 30% from 20% -- with two-thirds of that revenue now coming from the U.S. The company aims to derive 50% of its revenue from overseas operations by 2023.

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