The KFC brand is well established globally and continues to grow at a rapid pace. Gavin Felder, chief financial officer of KFC, a subsidiary of the defining global restaurant company Yum! Brands, tells us what the opportunities are for the business going forward.
What’s your background and how did you get into the restaurant industry?
I grew up in South Africa where, as a kid, I wanted to be a professional cricketer. Despite these dreams, after finishing school I became a professional accountant. How I ended up selling chicken for a living today is still a mystery!
My journey into the restaurant industry started 10 years ago when I stumbled into a job at KFC UK and Ireland, looking after operational finance. My wife and I had recently moved to the UK from South Africa for a combination of work and travel opportunities. After spending my first six weeks on the job training in one of our KFC restaurants, I fell in love with the KFC culture and the dynamism of the quick service restaurant business. My career at KFC has taken me to every corner of the UK, back to my homeland in Africa and now to where I am today, at our global headquarters in Dallas, Texas. Ten years later and I still get a kick out of telling people I work for KFC, and listening to their stories about the brand and how much they love our food.
How has the KFC business changed since it opened its first site?
The business is constantly evolving, but one thing that’s remained the same is that we are always focused on listening to our customers and employees, and giving them an experience that suits their modern-day needs. For example, we are heavily invested in delivery and mobile order-pay right now because we are living in an age where instant gratification is the expectation, and people want brands to make things as easy as possible for them. We need to continue to evolve our service platform to fulfil that. 40% of our business currently does delivery and it’s one of the biggest growth opportunities for KFC globally.
At the same time, you need to stay true to who you are as a brand. Everything we do to evolve stays grounded in our Southern roots and our founder’s values. The magic of KFC is about serving finger lickin’ good chicken that’s hand-prepared by our chefs in 21,000 restaurants around the world, all from a unique, secret recipe – that will never change, and that’s what makes us special and distinctive.
Why have you chosen to open restaurants in the current locations so far? And what has determined where subsequent restaurants have been established?
Our goal is to be in the most relevant and easily accessible places for our customers, no matter where they are in the world. We have different restaurant designs that offer specific experiences to meet any customer occasion. Some examples are KFC drive-thru locations positioned by major retail areas for an easy dinner on the way home after errands, urban storefronts to serve busy professionals on their lunch rush and recently, we’ve been working to get KFC into high-traffic commuter areas, like train stations, so customers can grab their favorite KFC menu item on the go. We use different concepts to bring KFC right to our customers, wherever they are.
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How are the international restaurants doing overall? Which countries are the most successful, which the least?
The KFC brand is well established globally and continues to grow at a rapid pace. In many of our markets, KFC has become the No.1 brand in the category by keeping the brand distinctive and relevant for our customers. I would say that two of our most successful markets globally have been Russia and Australia – in both of those countries we offer tremendous everyday value, some truly amazing innovation, and the brand looks and feels aspirational.
We do have some countries where there is still opportunity to get to scale and crack the right customer offering, and we have more work to do in those places to get things right.
What are your overall expansion plans?
We’re focused on growing KFC in every corner of the world. If you look at the market penetration levels that some of our competitors have and the rate of urbanization that’s occurring, we believe there is a very long runway for growth. In the past, we’ve skewed our new store development to emerging markets like South East Asia, Latin America and East Africa, but we believe there is a huge opportunity in markets where we’ve been operating for decades, but haven’t yet reached our full market potential, like the USA, Canada and Western Europe.
Could your overseas operations become larger than UK operations, or vice versa?
Globally we have over 21,000 restaurants across 130+ countries, so we are pretty diversified in terms of our footprint. Having worked in the UK business for four amazing years, I will say that we have a terrific business and a very talented team there, and I wouldn’t want to put a ceiling on what they can achieve and how fast they can grow. Paula MacKenzie is a brilliant general manager and one of the most growth-minded leaders you’ll find anywhere.
How do you stand out from your competition?
I think you have to find a way to be distinctive in the category, which can be challenging. We have the gift of having a real founder (Colonel Sanders) who developed an original recipe that – to this day – is still a secret. We also have some iconic brand properties like the bucket, the red and white coloured stripes, plus a great tagline: “It’s Finger Lickin’ Good”. We’re grateful for these rich equities in our brand and in our history because they help us be stand out and be special in a highly competitive category.
How does KFC stay relevant in the marketplace?
One way of staying relevant is making sure you listen to your customers and your employees. We have good processes in place to ensure we’re tuned into what our customers are thinking and what our restaurant teams are saying, and we are working to do this even better through technology and real-time insights. I’d love to get to a point where we are predicting and reacting to customer and employee trends before they even arrive- one of my favourite quotes is from Jeff Bezos when he said:
“No customer ever asked for Amazon Prime, but it sure turns out they wanted it.”
What are the opportunities and challenges for your business?
I would point to one that’s both an opportunity and a challenge – and that’s about doing a better job at creating a good experience for our restaurant teams. They have the most important roles in our business, and are the face of our brand, and we need to keep finding ways to make their jobs easier and more enjoyable. The customer experience will never exceed the team member experience, so it’s important that we get it right.
What’s the next big thing for the casual dining sector?
It’s tricky to make predictions, but I would be surprised if we didn’t see something bolder happen in the way digital meets retail in the casual dining world. There is so much innovation happening in the technology sector and I think it’s only a matter of time before it crosses over into modern retail and, ultimately, the restaurant sector.