From Djibouti to Joburg’s Gandhi Square, Pizza Hut cuts shapes across Africa

JOHANNESBURG — Pizza Hut made a comeback to the South African market in 2014 after a brief break from the country. But since returning, it’s notched up a serious number of local brick and mortar outlets while the business has even bigger plans for the rest of Africa. In fact, Pizza Hut is looking to capitalise big on fast-growing markets like Ethiopia, which has a population of just over 100 million people, almost double that of South Africa and the second biggest country in Africa after Nigeria. Pizza Hut also has interesting outlets in countries like Djibouti where there is a US Armed Forces base. It’s a fascinating story and here is the business’ general manager for Africa, Ewan Davenport, who tells us more. – Gareth van Zyl

With me on the line is Ewan Davenport, the General Manager of Pizza Hut Africa. Ewan, we’re talking about one of my favourite topics, pizza. Thanks for taking the time to chat to me today.

It’s my pleasure, it’s obviously one of my favourite topics too, so happy to talk.

What is the history of Pizza Hut in the South African and African market because growing up in Joburg, I briefly remember that Pizza Hut operated in South Africa and then left?

Ewan Davenport, GM Pizza Hut Africa.
Ewan Davenport, GM Pizza Hut Africa.

That’s exactly right. It was here several years ago. We did exit the market, but we actually came back into the South African horizons three and a half years ago with our first store in Honeydew and we’re just shy of 60 stores now in South Africa. So, it’s been a really exciting growth journey ever since we’ve re-entered and I do definitely feel that many of our South African consumers are wishing that we didn’t leave in the first place, but it’s great to be back.

What motivated the decision to come back to the South African market back in 2014?

Well, it’s obviously a very big pizza space here, there are many different restaurant opportunities, and the way that the company direction has gone, I think previously we had a lot of overlap between the Yum! Brands, so KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell are all part of the Yum! organisation and previously we had people working across all three brands, which I don’t think was generally in the best interest of the individual brands themselves.

So, what we’ve done over the last few years, is we’ve totally split the brands within the organisation and therefore, we now have brand-dedicated leadership structure, which allows us to focus very much on developing the Pizza Hut brands back here in South Africa. So, I am truly excited and privileged to lead the brand and it’s great that we’ve come back in and we see it as a great opportunity to bring our fantastic pizzas to the consumers here.

Over the last few years we’ve seen some major international food outlets and retailers trying to enter the South African market. We’ve had the likes of Starbucks and Dominos. Is South Africa one of the last untouched outposts for these major food brands in the world?

Potentially, it’s definitely I think the kind of space that many big players come in and see opportunities and there’s certainly plenty of competitors in the space that we play in. I think we generally see the opportunities right across Africa as well as South Africa, so I think we’re excited to be here and the great opportunity here.

Just looking more broadly at the African continent, so you’ve opened up 60 stores you said, in South Africa and you have a hundred in Sub-Saharan Africa. So, which other markets are you operating in in Africa?

We’ve had some incredible success if we look across the continent and we have great businesses operating in countries such as Ghana and Tanzania, we have a very high performing store on the American Forces based in Djibouti, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola and Botswana. So, we really have quite an intensive presence and as we look to go through this year we will be also opening stores and actually within the next few weeks in Ethiopia which is really exciting, but Algeria and quite a few other locations in West Africa as well. Therefore, it’s a big journey that we’re going on, but it’s really exciting.

It’s quite interesting that you mentioned the operation in Djibouti. That sounds like a fascinating Pizza Hut store there.

Yes, I will be visiting there over the next few weeks as we embark on our Slice of Africa Initiative, so I’m really looking forward to being up there, but it’s absolutely a great performing store and it’s an honour to be working there.

Looking at some of the other markets in Africa, which markets have the most potential? You’ve mentioned that you’re going into Ethiopia and Ethiopia has been a hot economy on the African continent for a few years now. So where is it the most potential, because many of these African countries have very big populations as well?

Absolutely and Ethiopia is a fascinating because not only does it have a very significant population…Obviously, as we expand in places like Ethiopia, we’re looking to expand in Nigeria as well, which is also similarly an exciting opportunity.

I think there is a great moment in time now for us to really support these communities in obviously, the building of a restaurant, but it’s also not just about that and the creation of jobs, but also the infrastructure that we help support when we come into these countries from the perspective of the supply chain industry, safety standards, etc. So, it’s obviously not quite as simple just opening your restaurant, especially when it comes to bonds with a global brand name to uphold such as Pizza Hut.

Would the likes of Uber Eats having hit some markets like South Africa in recent years, the online food booking apps; is there still a demand for brick and mortar stores in terms of being a food outlet?

Yes, it’s a great question. We see these channels as being hugely complimentary. I think whilst we are focusing a lot on our digital journey and we are online now and also partnering with aggregators, there are still many people within South Africa and the rest of Africa who are very excited about going out and eating Pizza Hut in a Pizza Hut restaurant, so we need to make sure that we’re catering for all channels. I think that ultimately Kraft is growing categories that we will see across the world, will be the delivery channel.

That’s something that we have to focus on, but we also love being able to give consumers a true brand experience to come to some of our outlets and to enjoy that environment and there is a lot of focus on our new restaurant concept, which conceptually is very open to customers. So, we have an open kitchen and a very enjoyable dining experience. Therefore, I think we literally go across all channels as far as our growth opportunities.

So, talking about the new restaurant concept, have you launched any of those in South Africa or the rest of Africa?

Absolutely, so what we call it is, cross casual. We have some beautiful restaurants, there’s one on Florida Road in Durban, which is a fantastic restaurant environment. Our hundredth store in Ghandi Square in Johannesburg is again an absolutely stunning cross casual concept and we have many others as well scattered throughout the country, so it’s a really great environment to go and chomp a pizza or to enjoy time with friends, just really excellent, beautiful-looking stores.

Just on another subject, in April, you’re going to visit restaurants across the continent in the shape of a great big pizza slice to mark the launch of your African Literacy Project. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Yes, of course. We found that there’s quite a staggering statistic, so we understood that 218 million people in Africa can’t read, which I think is really quite a shocking statistic and working with my team here, I think CSR in helping them supporting the communities with we serve in is very close to my heart and also to my team and our partners and our franchisees’ hearts. Therefore, we really wanted to make a difference and we decided that if you squint your eyes hard enough and look at where our stores are based, we can actually draw out a lovely slice of pizza across Africa and we thought, well, what if we could actually get reading materials into the hands of children across the African continent.

So, on the fourth of April in Cape Town we launched our Slice of Africa Initiative and what we’re doing is, we’re actually taking Pizza Hut Red Reading Boxes into every country where we have a Pizza Hut and we’ll be sharing those pizza boxes, which is a box packed full of reading resources and tools to help really inspire children with reading and we’ll be actually kicking off a launch event in every country with local schoolchildren and then also we’ll be kicking off the opportunity to donate either in-store or online to actually generate more reading materials which we will pull together and then launch in every country on World Literacy Day in September. It’s our first kind of big venture into supporting our local communities with literacy, but we’re really excited about the buzz that this is generating and also the opportunity to really make a difference in the continent.

Ewan Davenport, I wish you the best of luck with that and thanks so much for taking the time to chat to me today.

It’s an absolute pleasure, thank you so much.

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