American Fast Food Brands Grow in African Markets

By Ross Perkins, Foodable Contributor

On this side of the Atlantic Ocean, 100 Montaditos, Nando’s Peri Peri, Piola, and Salsa Fiesta have found success bringing foreign brands to American consumers. But the cross-cultural success story seems to go both ways as American fast food brands are finding booming business in African countries.

American Fast Food Brands Head North, South, East, and West

For anyone who had traveled to Egypt, the presence of American fast food brands in Africa is not anything new. KFC was located right where consumers and tourists most (or least) wanted it – near the Great Pyramids and in downtown Cairo’s Tahrir Square. But even in the mid-2000s, lesser-known American brands, such as Hardees, were already making inroads in Egypt.

And this trend is unfolding all over the continent. Home to a sizable and affluent middle class, South Africa’s major cities, including Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, and Cape Town, are becoming home to a more diverse selection of American brands, including McDonald’s, Subway, and soon-to-open Domino’s. Oil-rich Nigeria is not only the most populous African country but also home to one of the most populous cities, Lagos, and can now count Cold Stone Creamery and Dominos as recent brands that have entered the market. And back in 2011, Nairobi, Kenya saw its first KFC. And where KFC goes, others follow.

KFC Often Comes First

KFC Ad in South Africa | Facebook, KFC South Africa

KFC Ad in South Africa | Facebook, KFC South Africa

Someone has to be the first, and it seems that KFC is often one of the first American brands to enter an Africa market to test the waters. That makes sense because so many cultures have their own version of fried chicken so KFC’s products are already accessible and easy to understand, unlike tacos or pizza, which are not so ubiquitous in Africa.

So far, KFC’s business strategy has paid off with more than 1,000 outlets across the continent, but it was not without headaches and hiccups. The first-mover advantage comes with significant drawbacks, such as developing a supply chain in countries without large logistics companies, reliable electricity, or where roads are rudimentary at best. And this may be nothing compared to navigating some of these countries’ complex bureaucracies, red tape, and nonsensical import laws. But once one business has figured out the operational nuts and bolts, this attracts other fast food brands to enter the market. 

It’s Not Always Business As Usual

But this isn’t just bringing the same business model to a new location – the menu has to be changed to cater to local preferences, local prices, and local conditions. Side dishes may need to incorporate local ingredients to appeal to the local palate. For example, Nigerian KFC outlets include vegetable fried rice on its menu to cater to what locals like. Affordability also plays a huge role in the growth potential of these brands because while these meals may be considered affordable in affluent countries, a fast food meal in many Africa countries can easily exceed an average resident’s day’s wage. 

KFC Menu in South Africa- 1 South African Rand equals 0.091 US Dollar | KFC 

KFC Menu in South Africa- 1 South African Rand equals 0.091 US Dollar | KFC 

Despite the limitations, business owners and entrepreneurs see potential and dollar signs (or South African rand signs or Kenyan shilling signs or some other country’s currency) when they think about the potential to tap into these markets. The continent’s population is growing, and this growing population is young. Several of these countries’ economies are growing fast – whether it is because of higher prices for natural resources or because of developing service-sector industries. Whatever the reason, several African countries have some of the world’s fastest growing economies. And African countries are slowly, but surely, liberalizing making it easier for businesses to open up in some markets. So for adventurous entrepreneurs, there are plenty of lucrative opportunities for American brands to not only capture market share, but to develop the market in the first place. It will just take time and perseverance to make it happen.