KFC Africa : Chicken that Rules the Roost

Josh RayfieldLauren Kania
Josh Rayfield - Senior Head of Projects Lauren Kania - Editor
At A Glance
  • One of the most prominent markets for KFC is South Africa, where it established its roots in 1971 and has grown to become the largest quick-service restaurant.
  • KFC Africa always uses premium, whole-muscle chickens that comply with local animal rights legislation and are always freshly prepared by team members within KFC Africa kitchens.
  • KFC Africa is focused on digitalisation for the further convenience of its customers, including modern kiosks, digitalised drive-thrus, and updated e-commerce platforms.
  • “Together, we work to bring Finger Lickin’ Good chicken to the next generation of KFC customers,” says Akhona Qengqe, General Manager, KFC Africa.

World-renowned for nearly a century’s worth of Finger Lickin’ Good food, KFC is proud to be the second-largest restaurant chain in the world. We speak to Akhona Qengqe, General Manager of KFC Africa, about her inspirational career and the restaurant chain’s plans for an inclusive, sustainable, and delicious future.

CHICKEN THAT RULES THE ROOST

There are mysteries that have puzzled mankind for decades. Who built Stonehenge? Does the Loch Ness Monster really exist? Is there a sunken city of Atlantis? 

However, the most intriguing and tantalising mystery of all is the KFC Original Recipe – a secret mix of 11 herbs and spices used to produce the franchise’s world-famous fried chicken, which is so mouth-watering and tender that it has captured the tastebuds of poultry connoisseurs for nearly an entire century. 

In the late 1930s, Harland Sanders – better known as Colonel Sanders – owned a gas station in Corbin, Kentucky, that became so well known for its pressure fried chicken, a unique cooking method at the time, that he ended up removing the gas pumps and building a restaurant in their place. 

That intimate, six-table restaurant marked the beginnings of KFC, the world’s second-largest restaurant chain, now boasting approximately 30,000 locations in 150 different countries and territories globally.  

One of the company’s most prominent markets is South Africa, where it established its roots in 1971 and has subsequently grown to become the largest quick-service restaurant (QSR), with more outlets on the continent than any other fast-food firm. 

“Most brands aren’t lucky enough to have world-famous food invented by a founder with an incredible story, but we are,” opens Akhona Qengqe, General Manager of KFC Africa

“KFC is a global brand with a rich, decades-long history of success and innovation. Today, while honouring our heritage, we remain committed to modernising Colonel Sanders’ vision by serving feel-good food at scale through inclusive, equitable, and sustainable business practices,” she prides. 

WORKING AROUND THE ‘CLUCK’

Qengqe’s story is one of inspiration and unwavering dedication, having rapidly ascended through the QSR industry to become the company’s first female and first African General Manager in April 2023. 

As someone who represents both the consumers and the workforce that encompass the fast-food restaurant sector, she has the unique ability to respond to challenges not just from an empathic perspective, but from lived experience. 

Having started her career as a strategy analyst graduate in petroleum, Qengqe worked in various functions including real estate and convenience retailing before joining KFC Africa as a Development Director in 2015, tasked with accelerating store growth inside the country and into sub-Saharan Africa, where KFC currently has a presence in 22 countries. 

“Fast forward to 2017, I accepted an opportunity to lead the company’s diversity and inclusion agenda. It was in this role that I was able to truly bring life to what I believe is at the core of our strategy – unlocking people’s potential,” she divulges. 

Continuing to break down barriers, Qengqe launched initiatives including the first women’s leadership programme, Women on the Move, and the KFC Ikusasa Lethu scholarship, a partnership with the independent school network, Curro Group of Schools, aimed at the most deserving students whose parents work at KFC Africa. The aim is to expand this programme into the rest of sub- Saharan Africa in the future. 

In 2020, Qengqe was then appointed Chief People Officer, a role that allowed her to focus on bringing in and retaining great talent for the organisation and continue to lead the transformation agenda. Within this role, she ensured KFC Africa was representative of its customer base and conducted business in a way that speaks to the heart of the nation. 

“Now, as General Manager, I have the opportunity to take KFC Africa’s equity programmes to new heights from both a local and global perspective,” she enthuses. 

“As the world’s second largest restaurant chain, we’re at an inflexion point where our actions can, and should, make a real, lasting change, and I am privileged to be a part of that.” 

SURPASSING EXPECTATIONS

In an effort to remain at the forefront of the industry and connect with diverse consumers, the company recently celebrated the opening of KFC Play Braam, a groundbreaking concept store in Johannesburg’s renowned Play Braamfontein precinct. 

“KFC Play Braam will serve as both a unique retail space and an innovation hub for the brand. It will pioneer new concepts in real-time and transform all areas including food, fashion, customer service, team member experience, technology, operations, development, sustainability, and design,” informs Qengqe. 

This, coupled with new, forward-thinking technology and a dual-lane drive-thru store at a newly opened concept, off-premises digital store called The Wedge, signal just a few of the incredible innovations happening across the company. 

KFC Africa is additionally focusing on digitalisation for the further convenience of its customers, including modern kiosks, digitalised drive-thrus, and updated e-commerce platforms, allowing for a quick and seamless experience. 

Alongside ensuring customers can access the store and their meals with ease, the company also promises only the highest quality of food is served at every location. 

From the farm straight to the store, KFC Africa is proud to source all its chicken locally, recognising its responsibility to support the communities in which it operates.  
In most of the other markets outside South Africa, the strategy is to also localise as much of the ingredients as possible. 

“Our exciting growth is driven by a steadfast commitment to sustainable business practices, achieved responsibly and in harmony with environmental and social considerations – the supply chain is a critical component of this,” details Qengqe. 

“In fact, one way in which the QSR industry can further reduce carbon emissions is by championing locally sourced ingredients by working closely with local suppliers and farmers across our supply chain.” 

This close relationship also allows the company to have strict controls in place to ensure that all of its suppliers adhere to global animal welfare standards and practices regarding the treatment of chickens. Going a step further, all ingredients and poultry are sourced from accredited suppliers and are checked 34 times throughout the journey from farm to restaurant to ensure their quality and safety, all without compromising its Finger Lickin’ Good taste.

“Together, we work to bring Finger Lickin’ Good chicken to the next generation of KFC customers. Every day, we’re finding ways to make a difference and have fun along the way”

Akhona Qengqe, General Manager, KFC Africa

BUCKETLOADS OF GOOD FOR ALL

KFC Africa is incredibly proud to be the most inclusive brand on the continent, ensuring that everyone, no matter their identity or background, has an open seat at the table. 

Qengqe has been described as a fierce advocate for gender equality, female empowerment, and LGBTQIA+ representation, having created a multitude of programmes and opportunities for those both within the company and throughout the local communities. 

The Women on the Move initiative, created in 2021, is a transformative 12-month programme to help equip women with tools and resources to leverage their innate leadership qualities and fuel results within the business. 

“This initiative sees women go through the process of discovery, participation, and self-transformation that is underpinned by blended exposure, which results in readiness for leadership and driving a high-performance culture,” expands Qengqe. 

The programme was expanded even further by the newly introduced Women on the Move Extended Network (WOM.EN), which looks to bring women across the business together, globally at all levels, and afford them the opportunity to share experiences, learnings, and challenges, creating growth networks both within KFC and externally with like-minded individuals and organisations that would otherwise not be available. 

Qengqe has also helped launch SHINE, a global programme for women aimed at creating a safe and brave space for people to connect, belong, and lead, ultimately building leadership experience by creating an environment of inclusion and belonging with a restaurant-first mentality. 

“This programme allows the business to not only partner with other leaders from around the world and be at the forefront of leading change for our people, but also become a visible ally for women and LGBTQIA+ communities around the globe,” proudly states Qengqe.   

Additionally, in order to continue to drive the economic active participation of women in local communities, KFC Africa has introduced socially-led initiatives such as Add Hope, the largest corporate feeding scheme in South Africa, and Mini Cricket, a programme for young cricketers from any background, a programme that KFC will soon be launching into other sub-Saharan African markets. 

“We believe that a multifaceted approach to driving the recognition and elevation of women, both in business and communities, is the only way real change will be made,” declares Qengqe. 

With the desire to be an environment filled with bucketloads of good for everyone, KFC Africa is building a workplace that reflects a world in which all people have an equal opportunity to live and thrive. The company extends this to more than 40,000 people employed across the continent, as well as the customers served and the communities in which it lives and operates. 

A SPECTACULAR WORKPLACE

KFC Africa is steadfast in the belief that its people are the very heart of the brand. 

Investing in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging is of vital importance to the company, allowing team members and their families to have the opportunities to develop their skills, further their careers, and gain quality education. 

“We strive to be the best place to work through our heart-led, high-performance mindset and inclusive culture,” details Qengqe. 

“We believe in feeding people’s potential, and we do this through global and local social purpose programmes that build skills to unlock employment opportunities in our industry and beyond.” 

This is achieved by empowering employees to bring creativity, ideas, and individuality to the table. Additionally, KFC Africa creates tailored development plans for leadership training and mentorship, and offers a wide variety of programmes and support aimed at helping individuals grow and develop, further showcasing the company’s serious dedication to helping people reach their potential. 

“We believe that a blend of experiences, backgrounds, viewpoints, and ideas makes us better, fosters innovation, and drives sustainable business growth, so it’s important to us that our people feel heard and supported,” insights Qengqe. 

Alongside creating an environment that allows individuals to thrive, KFC Africa emphasises great-tasting products and guaranteed freshness. 

Determined to offer the highest quality of irresistible fried chicken, the company makes sure its preparation, presentation, and taste meet the same high standards, regardless of location. It therefore uses premium, whole-muscle chickens that comply with local animal rights legislation and are always freshly prepared by team members within KFC Africa kitchens. 

“We have a continued focus on exclusively using the freshest ingredients that are meticulously monitored and controlled, leveraging technology and processes that meet the highest food service excellence standards which, together with ongoing training, upskilling, and auditing of our restaurant operations, means we serve great food with great taste every time,” acknowledges Qengqe. 

To guarantee the unique flavour that customers have come to expect from KFC Africa restaurants, all suppliers and over 1,400 stores across sub-Saharan Africa are independently audited throughout the year, helping ensure that all health and safety procedures are followed. 

APPETITE FOR A HEALTHIER PLANET

In a world that is more conscious of humanity’s impact on the environment, it is no surprise that sustainability is a critical component to operating a business.  

As KFC Africa continues to tackle its environmental footprint with bold action, it is committed to building with purpose while simultaneously decreasing its carbon emissions.  

In order to have a sustainable impact, the company is sourcing its food responsibly and utilising robust waste reduction efforts, with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 46 percent per restaurant and decreasing packaging purchased by 2030, alongside achieving net zero emissions by 2050. 

“From a packaging perspective, we have ensured that all consumer-facing packaging materials are recyclable, from cups, lids, and boxes to bags and cutlery. Additionally, we only use paper straws and wooden stirrers within our franchises, which are compostable and biodegradable,” expands Qengqe. 

This switch from single-use plastic straws to environmentally-friendly paper straws in 2019 empowered the company to remove an annual volume of 80 million pieces of single-use plastic from the South African waste stream. Additionally, the company also localised the production of the newly introduced paper straws to reduce transport pollution and support the local economy. 

When KFC Africa launched its paper-based gravy and coleslaw bowls in 2022, the company once again reduced its single-use plastic annual tonnage, this time by a massive 40 percent.   

While restaurants are still required by legislation to use plastic products for food safety reasons, KFC Africa’s focus is very much centralised around ensuring a minimal impact on the environment by working to make every plastic product used is recyclable.  

Ultimately, the priority goal remains to move away from plastic packaging wherever possible and continuously examine a diverse range of materials to develop a balanced approach for the procurement of packaging. 

“With our global KFC Building Green standards guiding our development, we continue to innovate the way we open, remodel, and operate our restaurants to minimise air pollution, water and electricity usage, and waste generated by our operations,” further emphasises Qengqe. 

AN ‘EGG’-QUISITE FUTURE

KFC Africa has long been a pioneer in the continent’s QSR industry, prepared to put its money where its mouth is to establish the market. 

Under the leadership and guidance of Qengqe, the company is prepared and ready to progress further than ever before, continuing to be a game changer within the industry. 

“As cultures intertwine and borders blur, palates are constantly evolving, coupled with digital innovations, a focus on sustainability, and customer preferences and habits that are evolving faster than ever; these changes make for an exciting industry,” she enthuses. 

To be Africa’s leading QSR brand, the company must ensure it is constantly evolving alongside its consumers in order to meet their needs. While some may view this as a challenge, KFC Africa sees it as an opportunity. 

Looking towards the future, it aims to be at the forefront of innovation in food, store design, and in-restaurant experiences, building a talent powerhouse that dominates locally and is globally exportable, doubling down on community relevance through its Add Hope programme. 

“I believe in Africa, its people, and the incredible untapped potential that still exists. As a business, we have shown tremendous growth, momentum, and acceleration through very challenging times in the past few years, and because of the people we have in our business, including our franchise partners, and our ongoing commitment to a high-performance, heart-led culture, we have shown that the impossible is, in fact, possible. I cannot wait to see what we can collectively achieve,” concludes Qengqe.

KFC AFRICA PARTNERS

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By Josh Rayfield Senior Head of Projects
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Josh Rayfield sources the collaborations with business leaders, brands, and C-suite executives that feature in Food & Beverage Outlook Magazine. Josh is actively seeking collaborations for future editions.
By Lauren Kania Editor
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Lauren Kania is an in-house writer for Food & Beverage Outlook Magazine, where she is responsible for interviewing corporate executives and crafting original features for the magazine, corporate brochures, and the digital platform.