Jacaranda and Wings: Part 2
April 20, 2012 11:19am
Long lines at a KFC in Johannesburg
What made KFC’s entry into the Kenyan market possible was securing a reliable supply chain. That is, finding a producer of chicken that could ensure consistency to KFC’s specifications, meet demand, and provide refrigeration and traceability from “farm to fork” as Kenchic, the largest poultry integrator in east and central Africa defines it. Kenchic, which runs hatcheries, “farms,” slaughterhouses, and processing plants, as well as its own quick serve restaurant chain in Kenya, “Kenchic Inn,” fit the bill. The company’s tag line is “We are ‘kuku’ about chicken.” Kuku is Swahili for chicken; in English, the spoken word conveys an almost loopy enthusiasm.
As in other countries where U.S. fast food corporations are expanding rapidly—there are 3,000 KFCs and counting in China; 70 already in India—factory farm operations are central to the supply chain.
Kenchic’s chickens are kept in facilities akin to U.S.-style “broiler sheds:” a set of large buildings set back from a major road in Mlonlongo, near Nairobi’s international airport (a Kenchic Inn operates nearby), which I saw from a distance last year.
What makes KFC in Kenya so jarring? I’ve been visiting the country for years and while there’s not a dearth of “home-grown” informal eateries featuring Western-style burger and chicken meals, fast food culture is not widespread, and Nairobi—thankfully—doesn’t have the Western chains that often dominate cities in Asia and Latin America. But it does have a growing middle class for whom Western brands have a certain glamour—and those brands want to reach new markets.
In Nairobi, KFC is still a novelty. In South Africa, though, where it’s operated for forty years, it is, according to the KFC website, a national “institution.” Five hundred KFCs populate southern Africa, a majority in South Africa, where I can attest that they are hard to avoid. I saw more KFCs than I see even in the U.S. when I attended the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 17th “conference of parties” (or COP 17) meeting in Durban late last year.
Colonel Sanders’ elderly white male visage as a backdrop of sorts for a climate change summit—in South Africa, no less—was surreal. So was watching some of my Kenyan colleagues also attending COP 17 (none of whom had eaten at Nairobi’s new KFCs), getting a late night meal at an obligingly open Durban McDonald’s, one of many. No McDonald’s yet operates in Nairobi, but that may change soon—a story, I think, for another day.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Attaway, Flickr