Fast-food giant KFC introduced the drive-through concept in Kenya in 2011 with the opening of an outlet along the busy Mombasa road.
Although it is not at the perfect location, the drive-through has outperformed expectations, says Justin Melvin, general manager of Kuku Foods, the local franchisee for KFC.
Kuku Foods is now building a second drive-through along Thika Road – also a busy route connecting Nairobi and the industrial town of Thika. He describes the drive-throughs as a “model for the future” as KFC seeks to attract increasingly busy consumers who want convenience.
“The drive-through (on Mombasa road) has proved to be our most successful store despite the fact you wouldn’t think it was the best location because it’s on the way out of town, not into town. It has proved to be extremely popular and is our most successful store in terms of actual sales [and] number of customers.”
Malls ‘less convenient’
The drive-through concept was popularised by quick-service restaurants in the US and has been adopted worldwide.
Melvin attributes the success of the Mombasa road drive-through to convenience, something he says shopping malls are gradually losing. At a busy mall, he notes, it can take a customer up to 30 minutes to get from the entrance gate to their preferred store due to security checks, shortage of parking space and queues when paying for parking.
Nairobi has a good offering of shopping malls, giving shoppers and retailers many options to choose from. But some brands, such as local coffee chain Java House and American restaurant franchise Subway, are also growing their footprint in alternative locations such as fuel service stations and in commercial buildings.
“What has changed, I think, is the malls have gotten less convenient, which is why the drive-through and convenience stores are really working. If you are going to the mall you are going to go for a while.”
“Going to the mall is an experience, and it is evolving in Kenya as a destination for the weekend. You might eat fast food while you are there but you are not going there for the fast food. Now, my business is based on people buying every day, not just on weekends.”
But it doesn’t mean shopping malls are not vital in a brand’s retail strategy. In fact, KFC is opening its 10th store at a new mall in the upmarket Karen suburb in Nairobi. Melvin explains that for new brands entering the market it can be “important to be at prestigious locations”.
“Sometimes to initially establish a brand you need to be in the key malls where your brand stands out, and where the trendsetters will go to shop. As the brand evolves then you start looking at other ways to grow your business, convenience is often a key lever.”
Although a promising model, Melvin says finding locations for drive-through outlets is difficult.
“It needs to be at a place where people are driving somewhere. It takes a lot of space – but if you get the right location you get great drive-through volume all the time.”
“I think it is the model for the future. In Nairobi convenience is what we are looking at in our expansion strategy. We are all about convenience, we are fresh fast food every time. So it is not just about being easy to get (your meal), but also easy to get to a KFC outlet.”