Three months into his role as MD of Nando’s UAE, Ge­orge Kun­nap­pally sits down to dis­cuss his plans for the fu­ture.

Three months into his role as MD at Nando’s UAE, Ge­orge Kun­nap­pally sits down with Caterer Mid­dle East to dis­cuss how he’ll take the brand for­ward in 2019

Caterer Middle East - - Contents -

Peri peri chicken ex­isted be­fore Nando’s but you’d be for­given for not know­ing that. The saucy poul­try dish has be­come so in­grained with the Por­tuguese-South African brand that the terms have be­come vir­tu­ally syn­ony­mous.

It’s the kind of brand aware­ness that most com­pa­nies can only dream of, and for Nando’s new man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Ge­orge Kun­nap­pally it meant he had a per­sonal con­nec­tion with the brand long be­fore he joined.

“I’ve been a cus­tomer for a decade and a half,” he tells us. “It’s a once in a life­time op­por­tu­nity to work for a brand that I’ve been in love with as a cus­tomer.”

For the F&B exec who has for­merly worked with brands such as Johnny Rock­ets and Sub­way, com­ing into a suc­cess­ful en­ter­prise like Nando’s marks a change of pace from what Kun­nap­pally is used to.

He says: “It’s heart­en­ing to know you’ve joined a brand that’s al­ready do­ing very well and you’re hop­ing you can take it to a bet­ter level. I’ve had as­sign­ments where it was cri­sis man­age­ment from day one to the day you left where you are purely fight­ing fires.

“Here it’s very dif­fer­ent be­cause the brand is al­ready es­tab­lished, the brand is suc­cess­ful, the brand is loved, so you can fo­cus on how to bet­ter things, not how to purely fix things.”

For Kun­nap­pally that means try­ing to ex­tend Nando’s reach to an even wider au­di­ence. While the brand is well-loved by western ex-pats, par­tic­u­larly among the 18-30 crowd, the MD hopes to bring in more cus­tomers from the east, say­ing: “We are prob­a­bly more fre­quented by western ex­pats than Asian ex­pats. We would like to bal­ance that out where the Asian com­mu­nity or UAE na­tional com­mu­nity would dine with us twice a month rather than once a month. That’s some­thing we are fo­cused on in terms of our mar­ket­ing cam­paign.”

Kun­nap­pally also lets us in on stats from a re­cent brand health study re­port which showed that Nando’s at­tracts more women than men as cus­tomers, but this is not repli­cated when it comes to staff fig­ures, some­thing he is keen to rem­edy.

At the mo­ment, he tells us, Nando’s em­ploys fewer than 20% women in its work­force, al­though the num­ber is higher at cor­po­rate level. Kun­nap­pally is hope­ful of rais­ing it to 30-40% as soon as pos­si­ble.

“We are pri­ori­tis­ing hir­ing more women in the work­place, whether it is in the frontof-house or back-of-house, we be­lieve that that’s some­thing we need to em­pha­sise as part of our val­ues.

“At the head of­fice level we are ex­tremely proud that many of our key func­tions are headed by women. Mar­ket­ing is headed by a lady, op­er­a­tions is headed by a lady, hu­man re­sources is headed by a lady. We need to achieve that bal­ance in our restaurants.”

While Kun­nap­pally is do­ing his best to ad­dress the gen­der gap, he also has to turn his at­ten­tion to more press­ing mat­ters. As it is for many op­er­a­tors, oc­cu­pancy cost is the big­gest chal­lenge Nando’s faces. De­spite its long-term pres­ence in the mar­ket, Kun­nap­pally says Nando’s still does not feel that it has the re­quired sup­port from land­lords and “oc­cu­pancy cost re­mains one of the key make or break el­e­ments in terms of unit eco­nomics and prof­itabil­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity of the busi­ness”.

While some land­lords have played ball in terms of ad­just­ing costs in a chal­leng­ing mar­ket, Kun­nap­pally says “cer­tain land­lords still hold on to high rentals per square feet based on de­mand/sup­ply and it be­comes dif­fi­cult to keep busi­nesses sus­tain­able when your rent to sales ra­tio crosses 15%”.

Ac­cept­ing that it’s not just a Dubai or Abu Dhabi is­sue but one that’s af­fect­ing the whole re­gion, Kun­nap­pally calls upon land­lords to “be rea­son­able and bring down rents to 10-15%”.

He says: “If they whole­heart­edly sup­port se­ri­ous op­er­a­tors the way the gov­ern­ment is supporting us, it would be a wel­come change. Be­cause we are se­ri­ous op­er­a­tors, this is the only busi­ness we do, and we are pas­sion­ate about it.

“We want to grow and build the busi­ness, pro­vide more em­ploy­ment, reach out to more peo­ple, and we will re­quire se­ri­ous sup­port from land­lords and mall man­age­ment.”

To get that sup­port Kun­nap­pally be­lieves that it's vi­tal op­er­a­tors main­tain con­stant en­gage­ment with prop­erty own­ers. He cites events such as the Global Restau­rant In­vest­ment Fo­rum and GulfHost as places where the two can meet up to share ideas and ex­press their con­cerns, and he's op­ti­mistic it is hav­ing an ef­fect.

He says: “I be­lieve there is a gen­eral un­der­stand­ing that this is a se­ri­ous prob­lem which has to be tack­led. It needs to fol­low western mod­els in more ma­ture mar­kets. The UAE is mov­ing to­wards how ma­ture mar­kets per­form and we should take that lead­er­ship and be­come more eq­ui­table or a part­ner­ship rather than a land­lord/ten­ant re­la­tion­ship.”

Other than oc­cu­pancy costs, Kun­nap­pally cites the sup­ply chain as the main chal­lenge fac­ing Nando’s as we move into 2019. As an al­most sole-prod­uct brand, Kun­nap­pally ad­mits that if an out­let was to run out of chicken it would “ba­si­cally lead to clos­ing down the store”. To en­sure that doesn’t hap­pen, the team co­or­di­nate con­stantly with dis­trib­u­tors and fran­chis­ers to guar­an­tee con­tin­u­ous sup­ply, which Kun­nap­pally calls “a big ex­er­cise”.

But with the full back­ing of his Nando’s team and the drive to con­tinue the brand’s suc­cess in the UAE, Kun­nap­pally is con­fi­dent he can take the “brand to the next level” with a new lunch menu and ex­pand­ing its avail­abil­ity across de­liv­ery ag­gre­ga­tor plat­forms key to the fu­ture of the com­pany.


Ge­orge Kun­nap­pally

Nando's Deira, out­fit­ted by Compass Project Man­age­ment

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