How has Burger King® performed since opening its first restaurant in Kazakhstan?
We opened our first restaurant in May 2012 in the Mega Alma-Ata shopping center in Almaty. Since then, we have been able to grow exponentially and now have 27 restaurants operating in Kazakhstan, including five Drive Thrus. Now we are the fastest-growing international fast food chain in the burger segment in the country and, in a number of regions such as Karaganda, Pavlodar, Aktau, Atyrau, and Aktobe we are the first international fast food brand to open restaurants there. In terms of actual guests, last year we had over 6 million visitors to our restaurants compared to 4 million the previous year. It means that everyday more than 15,000 guests visit our restaurants across the country. In terms of total sales, we reached $22 million at the end of last year for the full year. We have been able to expand quite aggressively over the past couple of years by opening 27 restaurants in less than four years and will continue to grow. Of course, that was in a certain economic climate. Regardless, we think that it is important to continue to grow. On April 15, 2016 we unveiled our first restaurant in Uralsk, which is the eighth city that now has a Burger King® restaurant. So it marks a big milestone for the company because Kazakhstan is a large country and being able to grow and expand is challenging due to logistical issues and the great distances between cities. Today the company is also one of the biggest employers in the sector: as of February 2016, 550 people are employed at Burger King® restaurants. By the end of 2016 the plan is to increase this to 650 people. Annually the company provides jobs and career opportunities for 100-120 people, especially for local young people.
What is your business strategy given Kazakhstan's current unstable economic situation?
Our strategy is to ensure that guests keep coming back to our restaurants. Providing excellent customer service is a pillar of Burger King®. In addition we continue to offer guests our King Savers value menu that we rolled out two years ago to make sure we are always affordable for customers and also to meet and exceed guests' expectations, which means being able to provide the best quality food with great service at reasonable prices. That's what a good business is all about.
What differentiates you from your competitors?
Firstly, Burger King® developed a strategy to differentiate itself from the competition with “Have It Your Way." This is a key strategy for Burger King® and means that any guest can order a burger exactly how they want it. For instance, if a guest wants to take out the lettuce, onions, or tomato, or to add some spices, then he or she is free to do so. It gives the guest the freedom to actually order customized burgers, which is unique for any quick service restaurant (QSR) business. Secondly, what makes us stand out is the broiling and flame grilling of our meat as opposed to frying, as it provides guests with a great tasty burger. There is a big taste difference between fried burgers and flame-grilled burgers and they are also healthier. The third differentiator is the very high quality of the products we use. Our suppliers have all been approved globally and chosen in accordance with international quality standards and the company's own internal standards, as the health and safety of our guests is our number one priority. All our food is now imported from Russia and European countries because Burger King® has strict quality and safety standards. Another aspect of our competitiveness is our prices, which are in line with the market. There are a lot of factors that influence price. This is a new industry in this Kazakhstan, so suppliers and manufacturers will have to be able to create the necessary infrastructure to be able to service restaurants and companies like ours.
What are the company's priorities for the year ahead?
We will focus on further developing service quality so as to exceed our customers' expectations. To achieve this goal, we will soon launch the BK University, which will provide educational programs for our restaurant managers so as to improve skills and knowledge in management. We will also continue to expand on the market and plan to launch about six new restaurants in 2016, including four Drive Thrus. Our aim is to introduce the Kazakhstani people to the Drive Thru format and promote it as a convenient way for drivers to order food without needing to get out of the car. This year we will launch a Drive Thru at a filling station in Almaty. In late 2015 we launched the first such Drive Thru in Aktobe, which is operating successfully and serves more than 3,000 cars per month. Such a format is quite popular in other countries worldwide; for example, Burger King is planning to open 150 fast food areas at petrol stations all over Spain by 2018 and such a format has already been developed significantly in Germany and South Africa. Offering a large range of complementary services for customers stopping off to refuel is a fairly successful strategy. Additionally we are working to further develop our delivery service across Kazakhstan and continue progress with the King Savers value menu platform. We are also developing our offering for children by introducing a birthday package and iClick interactive game zones in our restaurants. This year we are organizing and participating in a number of CSR projects. One of the most exciting upcoming projects is a scholarship program for Kazakhstani students.
How is Burger King marketing itself to compete with the demand for McDonalds in the market?
We have been able to refocus on our differentiation strategy and for us nothing has really changed. It is just about being able to reinforce our core strengths and differentiation points, and to focus on our goals, tactics, and the implementation of our strategies. Our business will not change, and it will make us stronger and sharper as the market further develops with more players entering the country. We feel quite confident as a business because we have already passed the initial stage of formation. We have loyal guests and, in terms of geographical footprint, we are the biggest QSR chain. We feel confident heading into this year and will continue to build and grow our business.