Iconic Brand March/April 2020

Iconic Brand: KFC

Before becoming a KFC Canada franchisee and owner of Pirani Group, Raheem Pirani had a personal connection to the KFC brand. “Growing up, on long weekends, my parents would take me and my sister to different parks around the city where we would have KFC picnic parties. It was our favourite part of the holidays,” he shares.

This nostalgia is something many Canadians feel about the KFC brand, given that the first location opened on 8th Street in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1955. General manager of KFC Canada, Nivera Wallani, reports that Colonel Sanders was in attendance on that day in 1955, sealing the deal with an old-fashioned handshake.

Since that time, over the course of 64 years, KFC has grown tremendously both in size and in its offerings and operations. KFC, along with Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, is now owned by Yum!. “The exciting thing about the restaurant industry is that it’s always evolving,” shares Wallani. “Some of the most noticeable changes have been around technology, from how we embed it into our business to make operations easier for our franchisees and team members to how we use it to improve the guest experience.”

Coupled with having some of the most recognizable branding in the business, this innovative spirit has meant dynamic success with longevity.

Going beyond the “secret recipe”

“We started out in the chicken business – the Colonel leveraged the distinctiveness of his secret recipe to turn KFC into an iconic brand around the world. But over the years, KFC has evolved from just being about chicken to being about people,” Wallani explains.

She notes that the brand’s dedication to people is a part of the KFC corporate culture and continues to set it apart in the quick service restaurant industry. “Our teams and the communities we reside in,” Wallani says, are the foundation of the company. She adds, “We are truly a people business that just happens to sell finger-lickin’ good chicken.”

Greg Walton, franchisee and owner of FMI Group, elaborates on this. “KFC has a huge heart. When joining the KFC family, you’re joining an organization that truly cares about people. There’s a long list of benefits to being a franchisee within the KFC system, but I honestly feel that, for me, one of the largest is that it has made me a better human being.”

Franchisees finding success

So, what kind of person makes an ideal KFC franchisee? “We’re proud of the unique culture we’ve built, one where everyone can be their best self, make a difference, and have fun! First and foremost, we look for partners who believe in people, who trust in people’s positive intentions, encourage ideas from everyone, and actively develop a diverse workforce,” shares Wallani.

It’s no surprise, then, that Walton and Pirani feel at home within the franchise structure KFC has fostered.

Walton, who began working in the food service industry at the age of 12, was managing his school canteen, working as a short-order cook, and working at a dairy bar by the time he was 16. In 2004, Walton entered franchising, going on to become part of the KFC franchise family in 2011. “The Colonel’s story, how the brand had grown globally so quickly, the crave-able original recipe chicken that I’d grown up loving – I knew that I wanted to be part of that,” says Walton.

Pirani has been in the franchising business for more than 30 years. “Once we joined the KFC family, we realized how lucky we were to be part of this iconic global brand. Fast forward to today and owning multiple KFC franchises across Canada. It is surreal,” he says. This rapid success is attributable in part, it seems, to the company’s iconic presence in Canadian consciousness.

“We ensure that our employees, our franchisees, and their teams feel engaged and valued, which then enables them to grow individually while contributing to the shared values of the brand,” says Wallani. The brand’s training and development programs for franchisees are crucial to this atmosphere. Both Walton and Pirani speak highly of the brand’s commitment to cultivating the personal and financial business goals of every franchisee.

Pirani explains: “KFC Canada shares global learnings, new technology initiatives, market trends, and analysis with their franchisees. This information helps us stay ahead of our competition and allows us to operate our businesses in a more informed way.”

On top of that, Walton shares, “The authentic care for people fosters an environment that I want to be a larger and larger part of. It’s part of the reason I continue to invest in the Yum! brands, specifically KFC. And the opportunity to be part of such an exciting, growing brand – I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

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Looking to the future

On top of best-in-class franchisee training and support, KFC Canada is also committed to corporate responsibility and sustainability. “We’re proud of our industry-leading initiatives in this space as well,” Wallani says, touching on a few notable examples: removal of plastic straws and bags from all Canadian restaurants; sourcing 100 per cent of fibre-based packaging from certified or recycled sources; testing bamboo buckets in 2020 as part of a commitment to eco-friendly packaging options; sourcing products locally, including 100 per cent Canadian-grown canola oil, 100 per cent Canadian-grown and milled wheat, and a partnership with Chicken Farmers of Canada; as well as the Harvest food program, regularly providing 200,000 meals annually across Canada to those in need.

This commitment certainly resonates with franchisees like Walton, who notes, “We’re an organization that feeds people, and with that, one that invests heavily in programs like Harvest. We donate our surplus chicken each day to local organizations that feed the less fortunate, and I couldn’t be prouder to be part of that.”

“We have a one-team mindset,” explains Wallani, “where we focus not only on the growth of the brand but also on the growth of our franchisees, their teams, and their organizations.”

With that in mind, what makes for an ideal KFC franchisee? “We lean into building relationships, building trust and credibility through collaboration, as well as having open, honest conversations,” says Wallani.

It follows naturally, then, that Walton has found success with the brand. “The business model continues to get stronger each year, and I’m more than happy to invest capital into building incremental locations. You get to be part of a massive network of highly motivated and highly intelligent people,” he says.

Pirani seconds this sentiment, saying, “One of the most enjoyable aspects of operating a KFC franchise is the opportunity to work with great people. We are very fortunate to have a lot of great people working in our organization.”

Distilling the KFC brand down, Wallani notes, “Invest in your people, and success will follow. Our employees are our greatest strength, so training and development is a top priority for us. Joining an iconic global brand gives you access to all the robust processes and systems that have made us world famous.”

Echoing this is Pirani: “The amount of knowledge and experience we’ve gained over 23 years of being a KFC franchisee is priceless.”

And Walton sums up, “It’s hard work, sometimes long hours, but it’s very rewarding.”

With this kind of testimonial, it’s easy to see that KFC Canada has a “secret recipe” not only for their chicken, but also for franchise success.

By Jessica Burgess