On the wings of love
Gavin J Bell, GM of Kuku Foods Kenya Limited, the KFC franchisee in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, tells us more about exciting expansion plans and how Kenyans have embraced the brand.
Writer Susan Miller
Project manager Eleanor Watson
Coca-Cola, KFC, McDonald's. The brands speak for themselves. So it is no wonder that crowds queued around the block at the opening of Kenya's first KFC in Nairobi in August 2011 and that the brand is still busily rolling out in key East African countries.
Gavin J Bell, GM of Kuku Foods Kenya Limited, the KFC franchisee in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, is excited about the response and what the brand brings with it.
And he's not just talking about those "11 herbs and spices" although he laughs because even as a franchisee he doesn't get to find out the secret of the recipe. "It's locked away in a vault in Louisville, Kentucky," Bell says.
There are currently three KFC branches in Kenya and Kuku Foods intends to open another one by the end of this year as well as several more next year.
It also opened its first Tanzanian branch in Dar-Es-Salaam eight weeks ago and intends to add to that with another store and there are two stores being built in Kampala, Uganda, one of which will open by the end of this year.
The group chose Nairobi for its first branch because it's a "leader in East Africa, a cosmopolitan and developed capital city," and Bell, a Kenyan with over 25 years in the hospitality trade, felt it offered what KFC was looking for.
He's upbeat about "a major focus on Africa from a global perspective at the moment" and sees the two platforms for entry into Africa as Nairobi and Lagos, with Nairobi being seen as a much easier place to set up a business.
"It's very much whether the demographic suits us and whether the environment and business structure of the country can support a KFC network and equally importantly is whether the supply chain can comply with global standards and the very strict restrictions that are put in place by the franchisor to ensure consistency of the supplier and conformity of the supplier to the high brand standards or quality assurance and food safety," Bell says.
Kuku Foods had to work with major Kenyan chicken supplier Kenchic to get it to meet KFC's stringent requirements because the Kenyan government does not allow the importation of chicken or chicken products. "And as they are market leaders in their field, that leads to other types of challenges including pricing and making sure they are globally competitive from a pricing structure."
Other Kenyan companies are now looking into the possibility of also supplying KFC while in Tanzania they are using a smaller outfit called Kuku Poa. The challenge there will be to see if the supplier is able to cope with a growing demand as they open new stores.
I wondered if it was hard to become a franchisee of KFC but Bell points out that Kuku Foods' shareholders include the MD, Simon Schaffer, whose family have been running KFC branches in South Africa for over 30 years. He thinks the response that KFC has had will also encourage other big brands into investing. "Subway is going to be opening here within the next month and I know of other franchises who are interested in the market."
What is a challenge is meeting KFC's exacting standards. And this is what Gavin feels the business has brought to the table, so to speak, in East Africa.
"I think the major thing is the total professionalism of an industry. Having been in the hospitality industry myself in this part of the world for nearly 25 years now, I have never come across such high levels of standards, such high assurable quality and such insistence that every single supplier undergoes an audit – and that audit is at the highest level – it's not compromised because 'oh, it's in Kenya' – it's not compromised at all."
Put simply either one complies with the whole international standards or one is not able to supply to KFC.
"We do two audits: a quality assurance audit and a food safety audit every year for every single supplier and those are conducted by independent auditors who are contracted by the Yum! Brands, the proprietors of the KFC franchise. We don't have anything to do with that and if they don't conform to the set standards they are not allowed to supply.
"There is huge emphasis on ensuring that it is a total quality product and that no food/supply element is comprised in any way. Yum! Brands which owns KFC has what it calls the Yum! Star Audit – and a star level is considered to be one of the highest levels of audit in the world by other brands.
"If a supplier conforms to the Yum! Star Audit they will be able to supply to any global brands in terms of food safety and quality," Bell says.
And the business is "run on a strict corporate governance structure, which ensures everything is done properly and in terms of Government regulations and tax compliance.
" What this type of attitude has done is "increase the expectation of the middle-class demographic so that local companies and customer expectations are also higher" and so the benchmark for local hospitality and services – including those in tourism - has also been raised significantly.
In the two and a half years of being in Kenya and certainly in two years of being in operation in Kenya, Gavin believes that KFC has given a boost to the public's expectation of what they should be able to expect from the hospitality industry.
And he's confident that when the industry itself has seen that it has to comply with those kinds of standards "we are going to be able to comfortably compete going forward into the next ten or 15 years."
And it's not just the brand's influence he's happy about. He's more confident than ever in Kenya's future and at being part of "one of the most exciting times in Kenya's history".
There's a "strong and very positive government in place" which is focused on strengthening the economy and stamping out corruption. Investment is entering the country from South Africa, the UK and U.S. and being bolstered by the "diaspora of Kenyans who are now coming back home with big investments or sending money back to Kenya from their overseas homes.
"Chinese infrastructure has dramatically helped in terms of moving the country ahead too," Bell adds. "Where we are today in terms of even just five years ago, it's a wonderful and bright future for Kenya."