While new restaurants spice up the marketplace with exotic flavours, traditional favourites are pulling out all the stops to achieve sustainable growth.
One such key player is KFC Corporation (KFC). Established in the 1930s, KFC has grown from its origins as a humble diner in Kentucky, US, into a global fast-food chain with more than 14,000 outlets in over 80 countries worldwide.
The company's cross-generational business success stems from a keen focus on quality. "KFC focuses on consistent great taste, excellent quality and customer service. We give our best to the 4.5 billion customers visiting our restaurants around the globe every year," says Amy Wong, senior human resources manager, Birdland (Hong Kong) Limited, a KFC franchisee. "Our mature and performance-tested management system ensures that every outlet delivers the expected outcome."
KFC has formulated a distinctive management methodology for its continuous success in the fast-food industry, with great emphasis on quality consistency. The company wants customers around the world to savour its original recipe and the secret behind its famous chicken. "Each piece of chicken must adhere to our established standards," Ms Wong remarks.
However, good taste doesn't stop there. "While the original recipe remains the spirit of KFC, new tastes are introduced to the market from time to time and, very often, local tastes are incorporated," she says. One recent addition to the menu, for example, was black pepper chicken.
The secret behind the success of KFC's products is a strong team of research & development (R&D) and quality assurance (QA) staff, who ensure that customers are offered a variety of creative dishes of consistent quality. "We must ensure that all KFC food products meet stringent standards. Our R&D team oversees every detail of the production process, from concept to delivery on the table", Ms Wong says.
The R&D team initially brainstorms new ideas and production methods and discusses these with KFC's management team before finalising the product launch. The chef, together with the R&D team, evaluates the feasibility of incorporating the new dishes from a production perspective. Management looks at them from a taste point of view and the purchasing team sources the ingredients required.
"We then conduct in-depth market research, including tastings, feedback analysis and focus groups. Each step is managed so that all relevant factors are considered and balanced, with our product development officers doing the preparation work behind the entire process," she says, explaining that someone working in the product development officer position is exposed to a great deal of industry know-how because the job deals with a wide range of staff across departments including frontline and support office. "It also offers unlimited opportunities for personal growth and is a good training ground to learn to work as part of a team while enhancing technical knowledge," she adds.
KFC has a culture of learning and the company encourages employees to engage in continuous education and to learn through experience. Ms Wong further points out, KFC believes in providing employees with the opportunity to understand how the business works from a holistic point of view, in order to help them improve their performance.
For instance, product development officers take on the role of coordinator when it comes to the introduction of new menus. In particular, they are responsible for handling the development of new food and drink products, directly participate in the creation of new concepts, product trials, ingredient and packaging testing and substitution; and sometimes product-review projects.
"From a human resources management point of view, it is important for staff to feel a sense of following through on an assignment, as it helps to cultivate job ownerships, broadens thought processes, drives day-to-day job satisfaction and improves staff retention," she remarks.
Making the grade
A university degree related to food science is an essential basic requirement for working as a product development officer, says Ms Wong. "The person must also be creative, have a passion for food, thrive on change and be hardworking." While technical knowledge of nutrition and food safety is a must, Ms Wong also stresses the importance of enthusiasm for the job. "To succeed in this field, as in any other business, you need a positive attitude and be willing to learn," she says.
The fact that KFC is a multi-national corporation benefits employees, who frequently get the opportunity to meet with staffers from different parts of the world to share insights during company events. In addition, global workshops are organised from time to time to keep employees updated on the latest developments in the enterprise.
Noting an increasing demand for product development professionals in the fast-food industry, Ms Wong says, "Customers expect extra value and healthier and more varied food options when they walk through the door. We change our menu about six to seven times a year and need product development professionals to help us serve our customers better," she concludes.