Burger King partner talks Myanmar expansion plans
After opening its first branch at Yangon International Airport, Burger King’s local franchise operator is hoping to open many more outlets in Myanmar, its general manager said.
BITING into a Burger King in Myanmar for now requires a passport, with the country’s only restaurant located past customs at Yangon International Airport. But franchise operator Minor Food Group is hoping local appetite will merit many more outlets.
Thai firm Minor Food Group (MFG) opened Myanmar’s first Burger King in Terminal 1 on July 1 – with very little fanfare. There was no press release, no ceremony.
By comparison, rival fast-food giant KFC opened its first Myanmar branch almost exactly a year earlier, inviting a host of local media and offering free food. Local KFC franchise holder Yoma Strategic also started its operations with a clear plan to open several outlets, first in Yangon and then across Myanmar. The group says it is on track to have 12 KFC restaurants open by March next year.
MFG, however, only sought approval from the US Burger King company for a single outlet in Yangon International Airport, Prapat Siangjan, the firm’s general manager for Burger King Thailand, said.
The firm has specialised in running Burger Kings in airports – it started its Thai operations with restaurants at Suvarnabhumi Airport, and its first expansion outside of Thailand was into airports in the Maldives, he said.
Myanmar’s new international airport Terminal 1 and anticipated tourist growth prompted MFG’s decision to make the country its second overseas location, he added.
The lack of publicity was down to two factors. Firstly, when the outlet opened in July not all Terminal 1 operations were online, said Mr Siangjan. Only two carriers were using the new space, although more have since moved in. MFG is also entering a new market and wants to make sure its operations are running smoothly and service standards are up to scratch before the official launch, he added.
A PR announcement and opening in expected due course, he said.
Mr Siangjan hopes MFG will be able to open many more outlets outside of the airport. But expansion will depend partly on how well the initial branch does, which will help MFG gauge demand. It is likely to be at least a year before the firm decides to expand, he added.
One issue with the initial location is that many of the customers are likely to be departing tourists, which Mr Siangjan admitted could make it hard to assess local appetite. The prices at the airport outlet – which are denominated in dollars – have also raised eyebrows, with a standard value whopper meal going for US$8.50.
One potential plan is to open a second Burger King at the domestic terminal next door, which would have prices in kyat and cater more to locals, but negotiations for a second outlet are at a very early stage, he said.
Applying for permission for the first airport outlet was relatively smooth, he said. MFG applied towards the end of 2015, and received the green light early this year. The Thai firm runs the Yangon airport Burger King without a local joint venture partner, he added.
Mr Siangjan could not comment on whether the approvals process would be any different for opening an outlet outside of an airport.
Keeping an eye on the new Myanmar operations should be straightforward, as Yangon is closer to MFG’s head office than some of the outlets it operates in Thai provinces, he said.
But MFG is not guaranteed to remain the only franchisee authorised to operate Burger King in Myanmar, and Mr Siangjan said MFG has to keep in close contact with Burger King headquarters to make sure they know if a competitor arrives.