Nando’s – Peri-Prepared

We learn how the popular PERi-PERi grilled chicken brand is evolving, and how that has prepared them for the coronavirus pandemic.

The story of Nando’s begins with the African Bird’s Eye Chilli, also known as “Peri-Peri”, discovered by Mozambicans and adopted by Portuguese explorers. This Peri-Peri flavour inspired Fernando Duarte to invite his friend Robbie Brozin to a Portuguese eatery in the heart of Rosettenville, South Africa in 1987. Together, they set themselves the goal of bringing this flavour to the world.

“We’re a flame-grilled peri-peri chicken brand, with Portuguese heritage but also a flavour coming from Mozambican heritage, and we have restaurants trading in 21 different countries,” says Trudi van Niekerk, Chief Executive Officer of Nando’s Licensed Markets & India.

Nando’s first restaurant was successful enough that soon the founders opened a second, in Savoy, Johannesburg, swiftly followed by another. Brozin and Duarte’s business strategy operated through a “flying by the seat of their pants” philosophy, taking risks, always aware they could fail at any moment. But even then, the company’s founders always believed Nando’s would be about more than profit. Their slogan in the early days was “have fun and then make money” but always in the right way, giving people opportunities and making a positive impact on their lives. It’s a guiding philosophy present in the company today.

“The flame-grilled peri-peri component is our big selling point,” says van Niekerk. “But we also have a light-hearted and humorous irreverent tone that appeals to people. We’ve largely been trendsetters over the years in terms of the fast-casual dining business model. A lot of brands have come into the market since then but we’re still one of the leaders.”

Peri-Peri People

Throughout its history, Nando’s has been helped along by one key asset.

“Across the Nando’s world we value people as our key asset, with a number of development programmes in place,” van Niekerk says. “We promote internal recruitment wherever possible and our people can go a long way in the business, based on the number of internal development programs we provide. In the IMEA region, for example, if someone reaches a glass ceiling in their own market, we share those skills with other markets. Plenty of people have been successful in transferring to other positions through the Nando’s network.”

This can be seen in Nando’s Harambee programme, which recruits young unemployed South Africans, offering them training and development to get them ready to enter the workplace. Since 2012, more than 3,000 Harambee graduates have been given jobs at Nando’s. Nando’s is working on similar programmes in other parts of the world using its South African model as inspiration.

Nando’s staff are encouraged to take part in a little friendly competition.

“One of our favourite initiatives is the International Grillers Challenge. Each Nando’s country runs national competitions to select their best grilling teams, and the two or three top grillers go to the international grillers challenge,” van Niekerk explains. “The winner gets a lot of recognition, both in-market and abroad.  For many grillers, this is the first time they get a passport and travel internationally for the first time. Many times they’ve never been on an aeroplane or stayed in a hotel. It is not all about grilling however; they get to experience key tourist activities prior to the multi-day main grilling event. This event also allows our grillers from a range of cultures and backgrounds to meet and build new friendships. “

Delivering Change

While Nando’s hit upon a winning recipe straight out the gate, that doesn’t mean the company hasn’t been changing and evolving to keep up with shifts in the global marketplace.

“One challenge that’s facing a lot of restaurants is the growth of the delivery channel,” van Niekerk admits. “If you forge an understanding of your brand as a fast-casual dining player, how can you capitalise on this new opportunity? What do you do with your current real estate when over time you may need smaller sized restaurants?  So we’re looking at how we can adapt our business model to capitalise on new opportunities. A number of restaurant businesses are jumping on the delivery bandwagon as a means to seek additional growth, but many of them are ignoring the technicalities of how you can successfully tap into this new opportunity without compromising on service or quality. It is also critical to managing your margins carefully.  Delivery may bring in sales, but at a much lower margin.  How do you manage the service mix in a manner that doesn’t end up destroying your overall business model? It’s a big challenge but also a big opportunity.”

Nando’s is a business particularly well-equipped to face this challenge, as their way of doing business is as diverse as their list of locations.

“Across the world, we’ve had a couple of different business models. Traditionally, in markets such as South Africa, we’ve had higher off-premise sales rather than dine-in business, while in the UK it’s traditionally been more dine-in,” van Niekerk points out. “We’re taking the learnings from markets who have been playing in the off-premise space for a longer period, and looking to apply these over different geographies.   We also consider packaging more carefully, as food is travelling more to consumers rather than being eaten in a restaurant. We’re constantly looking to improve the customer’s overall experience regardless of where they eat our famous food. This includes introducing more technology to improve the customer’s dine-in and delivery experience, whilst also assisting with labour scheduling and driver productivity management.”

Of course, recent events have shown that enabling delivery and curb-side sales is a prescient move for any restaurant business.

“Many of our markets have had to shut down their dine-in business as a result of the lockdown requirements in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Facing the coronavirus pandemic is a serious issue for all businesses, and from the outset, Nando’s priority has been the safety of their staff and customers.

“We work very closely with our international franchise partners. Our key priority is to keep our people and customers safe. The minute COVID-19 began to spread to more countries, we introduced an enhanced cleaning protocol for our staff, or ‘Nandocas’, our suppliers and our customers,” Van Niekerk tells us. “We’ve been through a number of different phases across markets. In some, where we were required to shut dine-in, we up weighted our off-premise channels quickly, adding third-party aggregators, or delivering ourselves.  We are also activating curb-side collection in a number of markets so that our customers are still able to collect food from our restaurants in as easy a way as possible.”

But this pandemic won’t last forever, and when it lifts, Nando’s will be ready.

“I think Nando’s in the future will always be one of the best fast-casual dining restaurants to visit.  The brand has been built up in people’s hearts and minds for 33 years now,” Van Niekerk says. “The opportunity for us is to make ourselves available for people with different needs through delivery, whilst giving them as good an experience as if they were dining in our restaurants.”

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