California's El Pollo Loco chicken restaurant chain is spreading its wings and flying into the retail market. Orange County Register (Calif.) staffer Nancy Luna recently blogged about the chain's new Pollo Bowl frozen entree line appearing in southern California retail outlets.

In her Fast Food Maven blog, Luna says the new Pollo Bowl is available in about 100 Costco warehouses as well as 600 supermarkets -- including Ralphs, Food 4 Less and Smart & Final.

Luna shares portions of an interview with Joe Stein, senior vice president of strategy and innovation for El Pollo Loco, Costa Mesa, Calif.

“We see a real opportunity because there’s no real high quality Mexican brand [in the frozen food sector'] he told her.

Stein said El Pollo Loco has spent two years investigating how to bring the right product to market. He noted that the ideal offering had to be “something portable and easy” to recreate.

Here's more from Luna's blog:

Stein said the chain eventually came up with a frozen version of its Pollo Bowl and pitched the idea to Costco.

The chain tested it in San Diego warehouses last fall and found that it sold well.

Over the holidays, the product expanded to 100 warehouses in Southern California, including Orange County. The Costco item is sold for $13.99 and includes six, 16 oz. Pollo Bowls.  The bowls sold in supermarkets are different in size and ingredients.

The grocery stores sell a 4-pack of 12-oz. bowls, that contain the exact same ingredients sold at the restaurants. Cost: $8.99-$9.99, depending on the store.

The Costco bowls offer cheese, which is not a regular topping on bowls served at restaurants. Stein said Costco insisted on adding cheese because the warehouse chain thought the bowls would sell better.

Research shows that El Pollo Loco is entering the frozen food sector at the right time. With consumers  cutting back on dining, more are turning to convenient frozen items to eat at home or at the office, according to market research firm Packaged Facts.

... El Pollo Loco is taking advantage of that demand.

Stein said the bowls, so far, are exceeding expectations with more than $4 million in sales. The chain is working with other grocery chains, and it expects the bowls to be in 1,000 stores relatively soon.

As for new retail products, Stein said he’s looking at the possibility of bottling and selling the chain’s avocado salsa and creamy cilantro dressing.  The chain is also investigating the possibility of selling pre-marinated chicken for barbecuing and or selling the company’s famous citrus-marinade separately.

“If we do it right, this could generate profits in the multi-million dollar (range) in the next two years.”