• Saturday, July 20, 2024
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Inspiration for our flavours is from recipes by W’African women over thousands of years – Abunu

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Kofi Abunu is the managing director/CEO Food Concepts Plc, owners of Chicken Republic, Pie Xpress and The ChopBox. Abunu has over 30 years international experience in management roles in the food and hospitality industry having previously worked with global brands such as McDonald’s (UK), Nando’s, Steers (Ghana), and Innscor West Africa Limited (operators of multi-brand food court) as Head of Operations with their partnership with Exxon Mobil managing the ‘On the Run brand’.

Abunu started with Food Concepts in 2007 as a GM for the Chicken Republic Brand. Over the years, he has operated in several African countries including Nigeria, South Africa & Ghana. His most recent appointment was from Divisional Managing Director – Business Development to Managing Director/CEO Food Concepts Plc which took effect March 2022. In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE-KORIEOCHA, he speaks on what inspired the creation of Chicken Republic and how it has evolved since its launch in 2004. Excerpts:

Take us back to the beginning – What inspired the creation of Chicken Republic?

In the very early days, we owned a franchise licence to operate a chicken brand that was rooted in South Africa. However, it did not take us long to recognise that this brand would never offer what our Nigerian customers truly wanted. For one thing, the West African taste palette is unique – we like our food much spicier than people in South Africa, and our flavour combinations are very specific to this part of the world. In addition, many of the well-established fast-food brands in Nigeria at the time were not adapting to the changing state of the country or market.

It is important to note that Chicken Republic entered the market as a challenger brand. It opened its doors in the same period that military rule in Nigeria ended and the brand was positioned as a revolution in great-tasting chicken. We thereafter changed our positioning to extraordinary chicken for extraordinary people as we continued to challenge the status quo, by demonstrating that Nigeria is perfectly capable of creating a home-grown, modern African brand that is on par with any other world-class quick service restaurant brand.

Can you walk us through some of the biggest challenges Chicken Republic has faced over the past 20 years, and how did the “Nice Nice” spirit help you overcome them?

There is a saying among Nigerian entrepreneurs that goes, “if you can do business in Nigeria, you can do business anywhere”. Things are tough here, even on a good day. But as with all things, there is a bright side to this. As Nigerians, we are innately resilient and have a great deal of ingenuity. Over the years, we have weathered many storms and overcome many obstacles. From fuel shortages to chicken shortages, fierce global competition, tough economic conditions and decreasing levels of disposable income to Covid, political unrest, and now the state of hyperinflation that we find ourselves in. For example, during the fuel shortage crisis of 2015, we really had to innovate and find alternative ways to keep our restaurants running. The fuel shortages were also what inspired the launch of our N500 Refuel meals, which led to our everyday affordable value menu category.

Mostly, these issues are not unique to us. They affect all people in Nigeria. So, what do we do? We can’t give up! Instead, we must literally just keep on frying our chicken one piece at a time. “Nice Nice” is symbolic of how we show up and of how important it is to celebrate our small victories along the way – be it a perfectly prepared meal or a smile on one happy customer’s face.

How has Chicken Republic’s menu and overall concept evolved since its launch in 2004?

Chicken Republic has been through many changes over the years. As the saying goes, “relevance is a moving target”. It is important to ensure that you think not only about what has worked in the past but also about what it is that is going to carry you into the future. Innovation requires imagination. For instance, our ChickWhizz sandwich launched at exactly the right time and is today almost as well known and well-loved as Chicken Republic. Building our e-commerce business was also a big step for us that was brought about quickly and scaled rapidly because of Covid. However, despite the never-ending need to shift and change; we never mess with our BIG 5 – the core pillars that define who we are as a brand.

Number 1 for us is ‘people capability first always’. We respect that we are only where we are today because of our people.

They are the ones who bring Nice Nice to life. Number 2 is our soulfully spiced chicken, flavoured to perfection with our unique blend of West African herbs and spices. The inspiration for our flavours comes from recipes that have been handed down by West African women over thousands of years.

This is not something we mess with. Number 3 is never to lose sight of our vision: To be the most loved quick service restaurant in West Africa. This is an ambitious quest that requires us to keep abreast of what our customers truly want and need. It is about deliberately injecting love into all that we do – particularly when times are tough. Number 4 is going above and beyond to provide everyday affordable value to our customers. Number 5 is to look after the communities and environments in which we operate.

From a single store in Lagos to over 187 outlets across 26 states – What has been the key to Chicken Republic’s phenomenal growth?

It is not any one thing, but rather a combination of things, informed largely by our BIG 5. Understanding the Nigerian landscape along with all its complexities and retaining our ability to be flexible and agile has given us an advantage over large global brands. I also think a growth mindset plays a big role for us. We are always questioning, learning, and constantly improving.

How did the internal team cheer ‘Nice Nice’ evolve into the brand’s core spirit?

Our marketing team first used ‘Nice Nice’ in a social media post celebrating the launch of our new Spicy Yam meals. From there, it just caught on fire and started to spread as our people, and even customers, started to play with it and bring it to life in real and wonderful ways. For example, our staff began using it to cheer each other on during busy shifts, and customers started sharing their own “Nice Nice” moments at Chicken Republic on social media.

This is exactly the type of brand advocacy that we aspire toward. You really cannot buy or contrive something like this… it is authentic and has a life of its own.

How does Chicken Republic infuse the ‘Nice Nice’ approach into everyday operations and customer experiences?

Nice Nice relates to our vision to be the most loved brand, which is underscored by our core values very much as defined by the LOVED acronym. Our brand tagline, “taste the love”, also plays a key role. Initially, our ops teams started chanting “WE ARE LOVED” and you may even hear them do this today. Sometimes you may also hear them shout “OSE”, which stands for Outstanding Service Every time. This is the language of our people. This is what guides and inspires our attitudes and behaviours.

Beyond Chicken Republic, how can the ‘Nice Nice’ spirit inspire Nigerians to face challenges and achieve their goals?

Nice Nice recognises anything and everything worth celebrating and it epitomises a can-do attitude. Many years back, we used to say “na-wahala”. This is much the same. Focusing on problems keeps you stuck in the past. However, when you shout ‘Nice Nice’ with a big smile on your face, which will surely brighten your day and invite good things to come your way; we believe that by embracing this spirit, Nigerians can find the resilience and optimism needed to overcome challenges and pursue their dreams.

Celebrating 20 years and beyond. What exciting activities or promotions are planned for the 20th-anniversary celebration?

We kicked off the celebration with an ad that tells the story of our journey in the industry featuring some of our delivery and business partners Glovo, Chowdeck, NBC and Paystack. To engage the public, we are rewarding creators who can recreate scenes from this ad with interesting gifts. The popular Ikorodu boys have also hopped on this challenge. As a customer centric brand, we know without our customers we won’t be here, so we have launched a number of promotions to reward them, especially a Buy One Get One Free promotion with our delivery partner Chowdeck. Over the next weeks, you will see more celebrations of our 20 years across several customer-touch points. We are also celebrating the people in-house without whom there would be no ‘nice nice’.