Sunday, June 2, 2013

Mongolia’s first KFC opens in Ulaanbaatar

Taken from:

Colonel Sanders brandishes the outside of Mongolia's first 
KFC, just blocks away from Ulaanbaatar's central square.

    By Mongoljin and Dashiell Young-Saver
   Yum! Brands, a global company based in Kentucky, USA, partnered         with TavanBogd Food Co., Ltd to open the first KFC restaurant in                Mongolia—located in Ulaanbaatar near the central square—Wednesday    afternoon.
   Secretary-General of the Ministry of Industry and Agriculture  H.Zoljargal, Executive Director of TavanBogd Food Co., Ltd D.Khulan,      American Ambassador to Mongolia, Piper Anne Wind Campbell, and CEO  of Yum! Brands International, Mickey Pant attended the opening    ceremony and cut the ceremonial ribbon to officially open KFC’s newest  branch. The store was opened to the public later that day and drew    large crowds of customers into the night.
 “All of us at Yum! are absolutely delighted to be able to bring this secret  recipe to Mongolia,” said Pant during a speech. According to D.Khulan, the company began planning the restaurant just a little more than one year ago, making it one of the fastest openings into a new country Yum! Brands has ever accomplished. 
Forbes ranked KFC second only to McDonald’s as the world’s most widespread restaurant chain. Its website claims that there are over 18,000 KFC outlets in 120 countries, Mongolia being the latest. With KFC enjoying tremendous success in China (a study claims that a new store opens every day there) and with Mongolia’s economy on the rise, the company plans to open as a many as three more locations in the country by next year – fifteen by 2018.

“This is the first of many, many stores,” said Pant.
“The opening of this first store was, comparatively, very fast,” said D.Khulan. “That is why we are only hoping to open three more this year.” She mentioned that the next planned branch will be located at Smart Department Store, in Ulaanbaatar’s 3rd district.
According to Ambassador Campbell, this KFC location represents the first time a “major” American franchise has moved into Mongolia. “How appropriate that the home of the secret history is now the home of the secret recipe,” she said. Campbell predicts that she, along with many of the United States embassy staff, will frequent the restaurant, enjoying her two favorite dishes – the coleslaw and chicken sandwich.
But beyond bringing its secret combination of eleven herbs and spices to Ulaanbaatar, the store carries significance in the development of economic relations between the rapidly evolving Mongolian economy and American industries.
“I think that (Mongolian-American) relations are very strong and cover so many areas, but we are really now focusing on increasing economic ties,” said Campbell. “So having a major franchise like Yum! come to Mongolia is clearly an additional step and a different type of business engagement.”
Chicken in a land of mutton
Although the iconic Colonel Sanders’s face sits above the doors, the Mongolian KFC restaurant is far from the one the Colonel established in his time. It spans 600 square meters across two levels (one underground), and features a gaming area for children with a light display on the floor, multiple flat-screen televisions, a phone charging station, 107 seats and free Wi-Fi. The interior design features are modern, including a small pebble garden with light-up orbs and a state-of-the-art restroom.
“I’m very impressed. I did not expect this level of artwork,” said Pant while taking a final tour of the space before the ceremony.
In fact, the designers, from a Singapore construction company that builds many of KFC’s Asian branches, also attempted to include features directed at traditional Mongolian culture. Cross-hatching surrounds some of the booths, which are supposed to represent the inside of a Mongolian ger.
“Mongolian traditional ger walls were built (around the seating), so that you could imagine yourself sitting in a ger while eating this worldwide brand’s tasty chicken,” said D. Khulan.
But, like the combination of modern and traditional design elements, the combination of a chicken restaurant in Mongolian’s food market (chicken inside a ger) could seem contradictory. A study done by an independent research company prior to the store’s opening found that the vast majority of Mongolians only ate beef and mutton when eating out. Chicken was very rare. However, the study also revealed that Mongolians did not avoid chicken, but rather could not eat it because there were not many quality options available.
“The fact that mutton and beef were widely consumed could have been considered as a risk,” said D.Khulan. “But when we found out (the results of the survey), the risk converted into a possibility.”
In order to effectively introduce its products into the market, KFC plans to implement a similar strategy to the one it used in China, changing the menu to fit local tastes and hiring managers among the local population.
“We have a lot of products that are sold in neighboring markets such as China and Russia that we will test here,” said Pant. “And we will also use local feedback to create completely local foods. We will do that in Mongolia in the next year.”
International standards in the local market
Another strategy the company plans to take in introducing its food is promoting its high-quality food technology and treatment. The kitchen equipment was imported from countries like the United States and Germany and, according to Pant, are as state-of-the-art as the kitchen supplies anywhere else. In addition, the food will be kept fresh by the company’s strict standards.
“We are not just bringing in the brand name KFC, but we are bringing into Mongolia international standards,” said D.Khulan.
But many wonder, beyond KFC’s potential for success in Mongolia, how its presence will affect the rest of Mongolia’s restaurant industry. While others remain skeptical, Pant said the new brand will encourage the growth and proliferation of Mongolian food companies, rather than simply out-compete them.
“I think (the Mongolian food industry) will grow extremely rapidly,” he said. “We have seen that when international companies (like ours) start their operations, it always improves the quality of local competition. So a lot of local companies will…start seeing a beautiful store like this and open more restaurants.”
Because of the new food and technology, the store has drawn many Mongolian university students and graduates to work for it as employees – most of the managers are college graduates, and most of the workers are current students.
Zolbayar, a 23-year-old food and technology student in Ulaanbaatar, is a hall worker for the KFC branch. After a long interview process, he earned the job and now considers it a launching point for a long-term career with KFC.
“There is no place I’d rather be,” he said. “It is very nice to have a KFC established in Mongolia and to be able to serve incredible food to customers.”
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