South Africa’s culture of chicken

While Nando’s is about peri-peri chicken, the point cofounder, Robbie Brozin, makes is that it is people who deliver and produce the chicken — and therein lies their competitive advantage and point of differentiation.

Nando’s needs no introduction in our chicken-loving country and this irreverent and charismatic peri-peri taste of Africa has done exceptionally well as a global brand, with some 1000 stores in over 30 countries in as many years. From its origins as a recipe exploration in Rosettenville, south of Johannesburg, Brozin and Fernando Duarte have built this into a compelling South African story of which we may be very proud.

In a market that is saturated with chicken options and in a hyper-competitive global quick service restaurant and franchise industry, they have done exceptionally well to carve out a space that is distinctive, unique and flavourful, to say the least.

Marking the occasion

Brozin was recently addressing the housewarming rejuvenation function at the Vega School and he spoke passionately of the partnership and journey that the two organisations have enjoyed, anchored to the principle of creativity at the centre. That is the business of Vega as an educational institution but it intersects well with the ethos and spirit of the Nando’s brand.

More specifically, he highlighted the importance of South African talent on display in the global arena and how the magic of our people has been translated into a unique culture and brand DNA that resonates across the world.

A role reinvented

Brozin stepped down as CEO of Nando’s in 2010, making room for a professional leader; in his own words, he “was a crap CEO” and was better-positioned to occupy a different role as a founder in the business. In this new role, he has the strategic priority of focusing on organisational culture and preserving what is special and unique to the Nando’s way. What is potentially perceived as a C-suite luxury is undoubtedly a key competitive advantage and a unique proposition within the Nando’s business model — culture as capability. It’s fundamentally about protecting and building the Nando’s philosophy, embedded in a particular service and delivery proposition, no matter where in the world it is on offer.

From the onset of the business, the founders expressed a desire to have fun first and foremost, and thereafter to make money. In the Brozin analogy, the two legs of a human cannot chase the four legs of money but the four legs of money can easily pursue the two legs of a human if it is for the right reasons and the business is having fun in doing so. As we well know, the rest is history in their case.

Enter the Nandocas

Nando’s is built on the concept of a family. Whether loud or quiet, settled or challenging, some of the central constructs hold true to this organisation and are reflective of the people centricity, welcoming diversity around their table. Family, or extended family, is a core value and this is further enhanced by the special characteristics of pride, passion, courage and integrity.

Nandocas are the definition of this extended family and an ethos that is played out across the business. This takes it beyond the ordinary of serving a meal in a fast food or dining environment to the level of the extraordinary, delivering a true brand promise and experience on a repeat basis.

People and a cause

This people-centricity is not only self-serving but extends into the communities in which it operates. Brozin talks with equal passion of the Nando’s attack on malaria in Africa, following a life-altering and adventurous exploration trip with Kingsley Holgate and the realisation on that trip that it could make a difference. Its people integration and addressing of this issue in the chilli fields in adjacent Mozambique are inspiring, emotive and real — and the beginning of a new Nando’s journey to help fight what is a leading disease across the continent.

The Harambee programme in South Africa is an initiative that recruits unemployed people and develops and upskills them to prepare them for employment. Since 2012, 3000 of these graduates have been employed within Nando’s and this model is being considered to drive similar such programmes in other parts of the world.

The art of differentiation

While I’ve previously focused on the limitations of the banking sector as an example of product and service parity, I could also argue that a chicken breast is a chicken breast and a thigh is a thigh. Nando’s has, however, taken this to a different level and created a point of distinction. It may be about the peri-peri; it may be about the irreverence and quirkiness of the brand; but it may ultimately also be about the people and the culture. As Brozin says, “It’s about people who make the chicken.”

We often are preoccupied with leading global brands such as Starbucks or McDonaldss, yet we have our very own and compelling international success story right here in SA. Brozin’s challenge to the Vega audience was to use our creative talents as a people to address the many issues that SA faces, rather than leave it to our inept and corrupt politicians. We would do well to heed the challenge. Bem feito, Nando’s!

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