Business Profiles

Kuku Foods East Africa Holdings Ltd: A Finger-lickin’ franchise

Colonel Sanders’ smiling face is known the world over, but who are the teams behind the American icon? We spoke with Kuku Foods East Africa Holdings Ltd, the Kenyan-based East Africa franchise-holder for Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC).

KFC is an American fast food chain well-known for its fried chicken. A subsidiary of Yum! Brands, KFC is second only to McDonalds in terms in sales, with over 20,500 locations in over 125 countries, the brand in prolific. Less of a household name as the franchise-holders who run the Kentucky-based chain’s locations outside of the USA. One such company is Kuku Foods East Africa Holdings Ltd.

KFC was founded by Colonel Harland Sanders in Kentucky during the Great Depression – a courageous and some would say foolhardy time to launch a business. However, a hardy businessman by nature (the honorific ‘Colonel’ was a title of honour in Kentucky, not a military title), Sanders wasn’t one to shy away from the challenge. He was also a visionary: seeing the potential of restaurant franchising early, the first franchised branch of his brand opened in Utah in 1952. However, as the company’s expansion snowballed, the fast-paced, global approach became too much for the colonel – a more hands on, traditional businessman at heart, he sold the company to a group of investors in 1964. Even so, his all-American face and name remain intrinsic to the brand to this day.

At the time of KFC’s launch, the hamburger had dominated the American fast-food market, but the company’s popularity made chicken into a contender. It was also one of the first American chains to expand globally – possibly explaining why this pace of growth eventually became too much for Sanders. By this point, in the mid 1960s, the chain had locations in Canada, Mexico, the UK and Jamaica. In 1987, it became the first even Western restaurant chain to open in China.
So where does Kuku Foods factor in to this history? The East African wing of the chicken chain is only a recent addition; the company was officially founded and opened its first outlet, in the Junction Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, was announced in 2013, although its intentions had been announced two years before. Today, it has become one of the region’s most successful fast food providers – something that must partly be credited to KFC’s popularity, but must also be credited to the efforts and standards of the company itself.

Representing KFC in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, the holding has had flourishing success in all three countries since inception. It expanded beyond Kenya after its first successful year, taking the time to plan and to conduct careful market research, much as it did in the two years between announcement and launch of its first outlet. This preparation includes carefully mapping out their consumer profile in the area, evaluating their supply chain, and looking into the particular operational challenges of that area to make sure that they are sufficiently equipped to take them on. All of this is evaluated with a five-year view. Growth is slow, but steady, and accelerates a little every year; today, the company presents over 30 restaurants in Kenya alone.

Their success in their five years of business has been noted. In 2016, KFC’s Regional Leadership meeting awarded Kuku the Franchise of the Year award, in acknowledgement not only of the franchise’s growth and success in general, but in particular, to recognise a push of efforts that took place in 2015. With its presence in all three countries established and grounded, Kuku had turned its attention towards streamlining its strategies, raising its customer service performance and pouring energy into new restaurant builds and pulling in staff. Its feet were firmly planted, and it was ready to flex – and did so well enough to capture the global brand’s attention. The criteria for the award evaluated the following: the spirit of the partnership. ability to deliver a winning customer experience, excellent operational standards, openness to innovation and adding of sales layers, building new KFC restaurants, and the quality of existing restaurants. To top all of these is certainly an achievement, especially after only a couple of years in business! On top of this, Kuku was also nominated for Developer of the Year and People Grower of the Year.

To Kuku, an essential ingredient in this success is down to their people. Carefully selecting their staff and training them to meet the chain’s, and their own, mark, producing staff with a passion for innovation and entrepreneurial thinking, as well as customer service. This creative thinking is essential for a franchise if they want to achieve local success; representing a well-known chain brand means re-creating the menu, feel and expectations of that chain, but it also means understanding your local audience and catering the chain to that culture. This includes adding local dishes to the menu, and also making sure that they can provide KFC’s iconic flavours and staple meals with locally-sourced ingredients. They must also constantly monitor trends, both to assess where their newest locations should be established, and to keep up with varying needs and demands in the locations they run.

One of the biggest trends that Kuku have adapted to is the growing need for convenience, which has inspired the holding to launch a regional delivery service for what is traditionally only a take-away or eat-in restaurant. This follows a pattern that is happening the world-over, both with take-away chains and even fully eat-in restaurants, thanks to companies such as Deliveroo and Postmates. The popularity for this service was soon booming, with Kenya’s outlets a lone quickly seeing over 20,000 deliveries a month. This success then freed up money from the Board to invest in this service for Kuku’s Uganda and Tanzania outlets. The service not only requires the obvious costs of delivery personnel and vehicles, but also ordering and tracking technology to ensure a smooth and professional process from start to finish.

Such large-scale investments occur alongside the rolling costs of keeping their franchise up to date. Every five years, Kuku has committed to fully upgrade every restaurant that they oversee, to make sure that the kitchens, systems and look of the outlets never fall below par.

The success of a multinational giant doesn’t just lie at the head; a chain relies on every link, and Kuku are passionate about safeguarding the KFC identity whilst delivering this in an East African way. Just as Colonel Sanders’ restaurant has spread the world over, we anticipate that it will continue to spread across Africa at a similar rate – especially with his ongoing legacy in such safe hands.