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Chicken Xpress: Trust the Flava

Chicken Xpress are a South African company with a South African taste. In fact, this patriotic “Flava” is central to everything they are, from their fresh take on chicken to the energy of their staff and the colourful design of their quick service restaurants. Since we last spoke with Chicken Xpress, they have been preparing to tell us about their journey through the most exciting time in a company’s life – a total rebranding, just in time for their wide-scale expansion, both at home and abroad.

Chicken Xpress (CX) opened their first store in 2011, in Umlazi, KwaZulu-Natal. A well-loved local fast food brand, they bring a distinctly South African feel to what they do, and they do it well. In the company’s own words: “Chicken Xpress is on an inspired mission to become the people’s champion in each new community we enter.” Their love and enthusiasm for their work has been rewarded with ever-growing success, which in turn has led to an exciting period of change. Not only have CX been expanding their store numbers at an incredible rate, but they have also been redesigning their branding, developing their plans for charitable works, throwing opening parties and events across Africa and India, and have even had a change of COO.

From owning 23 stores across South Africa, as well as locations in Botswana, the chain has recently undergone a massive expansion into India. Given that they began life in KwaZulu-Natal, the coastal South African province home to Indian-inspired Durban, the brand’s overseas expansion to this country is a logical one. Remarkably, however, their push into India will far outweigh their current numbers in Africa, with an initial roll out of 120 stores, and a view to growing this up to 400 stores over the next five to ten years. We spoke with Delon Biton, CX’s Marketing Manager, about their plans: “We are currently finalizing a full market growth strategy for India, Bangladesh and Nepal. This will be our first entry into Asia, where we see CX growing across the entire continent as it is currently doing across Africa.”

India isn’t the only place seeing exciting change for Chicken Xpress, with their new stores both abroad and at home the front line for the company’s innovations. One such innovation has been the introduction of 24-hour Drive-Thrus, which were opened to the public at the end of March this year, thus making the brand accessible to all potential customers. The Drive-Thrus join CX’s family of service formats, including their traditional QSR stores, Large Format Brand stores, kiosks, and food trucks to deliver their food out to the people.

With the consistent and speedy growth of the Chicken Xpress franchise, the company may be focusing on thinking globally, but they are still acting locally. As a proud South African company that puts patriotism high on their agender, from the sourcing of local employment to the use of only “proudly South African” products, Chicken Xpress are working to reflect and contribute to their communities through everything from charitable works to their interior design.

In particular, CX are representing this South African pride through their new branding. “We have evolved our branding to something more fun and exciting, just like the African culture,” enthuses Biton. “We introduced colors and patterns that bring out the unique Flava in our brand, and that have a modern, African feel to them.”

“When we say, “Trust the Flava”, we are not only talking about the unique Chicken Xpress South African taste, but also the Flava within you that makes you stand out from the rest. Be confident in your Flava – Trust the Flava.”

“We also focus on the Flava within the community that a store is situated in. We are focusing more on individualizing and localizing our stores; for example, through interior design, certain parts of our stores will abstractly tell a story about the area they are in. We are also adapting our stores to reflect our local customers’ taste preferences. For example, some of our stores have a hotter “SHISA” Flava than others, due to the area’s customer preferences. We also offer our franchisees unique local store specials and marketing advice to suit the area that they are in.”

Well aware that first impressions are everything, Chicken Xpress have been pouring the majority of their attention into their new stores, from their smooth set-up, to their unique local designs, to throwing spectacular, crowd-drawing openings to welcome the location into the community. The festivities usually involve live DJs, ‘Spin ‘n Wins’ giving away deals and prizes, and specials offers that allow everyone attending the opportunity to enjoy their menus.

“We have focused a lot in our store openings – to make the biggest and best first impression and to maintain that standard throughout. We show the customers our Flava – we have the Flava and we are the Flava. We make sure everyone around our store is having a good time, from adults to young kids. We make the area around us buzz.”

It sounds like a party! One of these many planned openings will be Chicken Xpress’ first store in Kampala, Uganda, in February 2018. The site will be situated next to a busy Shell Petrol Station, in one of the busiest parts of the city, and used as an entry point into the Ugandan market. Uganda was recently voted one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world, but it is still an emerging economy, and entrepreneurs still need assistance in growing their businesses over time. “We believe that franchising provides a structured and sustainable platform for entrepreneurs to grow and enhance their business skills, while providing job creation and economic growth.”

This will be CX’s first store in Uganda, and from here, they look to not only grow throughout Uganda, but also across the East African region. “While other western, off-continent brands have come into the region, our brand is one that is truly built for Africa. We combine smaller format stores, with a localised approach to our menu offerings, branding and community development across the continent.”

The vibrancy of CX’s store openings reflects the attitude and energy that has seen Chicken Xpress win the hearts of their customers and cement themselves as one of the nation’s most loved QSR brands. They have also achieved this through their community outreach: as well as promoting growth through employment and the sourcing of local ingredients, CX supports young sportspeople throughout the country via the sponsorship of soccer kits and other items for schools and clubs. On top of this, they are also involved in community initiatives such as charitable work with ‘Feed A Child Feed A Nation’, through whom CX feed underprivileged school children once a month. Recently, they also teamed up with Mpact Recycling for a Mandela Day initiative, in which they provided over 1000 meals for Troyeville Primary School. Donna Noble, Communications Manager for Mpact Recycling, said of the initiative: “We chose Troyeville Primary School specifically because we wanted to brighten the lives of children in one of Johannesburg’s disadvantaged areas.” According to Delon, this collaboration was the first of many new charitable efforts for Chicken Xpress: “We have massive plans to increase our charity initiatives and community participations for the years to come.”

As a modern and dynamic brand, Chicken Xpress know the importance of staying fresh and moving forwards. Even so, this has been an impressive period of change for the company, with developments occurring across the board. In part, this has been prompted by their change in COO. Chris Cook had over 20 years of experience in QSR top brands before coming to Chicken Xpress. He left a 100-store KFC franchise group in order to join CX, leaving the corporate structure in favour of a smaller, vibrant, up and coming brand with huge potential. “I have been very impressed with the sheer volume of interest in the brand,” Cook noted; whilst CX has nowhere near KFC’s scale, they are well-loved in every area they reach. “CX is very well placed to return investment in a competitive QSR environment with significantly lower investment costs,” Cook continued. “I also enjoy the company ethos, which allows quick decisions that enhance and grow the brand.”

On top of the developments we’ve already looked out, Cook plans to make ongoing improvements in CX’s supply chain, distribution and operational systems to enhance their profitability. As he joked, “This is very tongue in cheek, but unless you are the lead dog, the view never changes!” They are certainly choice words, but ones that reflect Cook’s playfulness as well as his serious ambition for the company – traits that suit CX’s fun-loving professionalism perfectly. On a more serious note, Cook added, “I like Richard Branson’s words – ‘If your dreams don’t scare you, they are too small.'” We couldn’t put it better ourselves. Chicken Xpress are definitely dreaming big, but the six-year-old company are in the perfect position to use the foundation they have built and launch themselves to the next level. With a passionate new COO at the helm, there’s no holding back.