One of South Africa’s great success stories is Portuguese chicken chain Nando’s, which started off with a single store in Johannesburg’s southern suburbs and now operates in Europe, the UK, the Middle East and across Africa up to Nigeria. The chain has just opened its first store in the US.
Established in 1987, Nando’s is one of the biggest and most popular brands to emerge from South Africa, and has spread across the world to operate in 26 countries on five continents. The company has just celebrated its 21st birthday with the opening of its US store, located in Washington DC.
“Since our inception in 1987, our authentic flame-grilled peri-peri chicken has blazed a trail around the world and it still stands at the core of what we're about,” said Nando’s co-founder and CEO Robert Brozin. “But our international expansion – which now stands at almost 750 restaurants around the globe – is continually progressing and we are confident that the US market is ready to embrace the brand and its unique taste, flavour and positioning.”
Brozin added that US consumer response to the brand has been exceptional. “It is clear that Americans who have tasted the world's best flame-grilled peri-peri chicken in other parts of the globe are delighted to finally enjoy our addictive Nando's taste.”
Nando’s has operated since 1994 in the Canadian cities of Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Ottawa, but the US market has always been the prize. Global market research specialists Euromonitor commented in December 2007 that it believed Nando’s would see strong growth in the US, given the success of other ethnic cuisines such as Mexican and Indian.
Euromonitor also described Nando’s future as extremely positive, saying that it appealed to emerging middle classes in developing regions as well as western consumers who were looking for healthy food alternatives.
“Washington DC is our first step into the US,” said Brozin, “and we're positive that Nando's will be well received as it continues to grow within it. We remain a born-and-bred proud South African brand.”
The next US restaurant will open in early 2009 in Dupont Circle, Washington DC.
The Nando’s concept was born in the southern Johannesburg suburb of Rosettenville, where Brozin’s friend and future business partner, Fernando Duarte, introduced him to a Portuguese flame-grilled chicken restaurant called Chickenland. So impressed was the pair by Chickenland’s food that they bought the restaurant in 1987 and changed its name to Nando’s, at the same time introducing the now-familiar Barcelos cockerel that has become synonymous with the Nando’s brand.
Brozin and Duarte used African bird’s eye chillies to give their sauces and chicken a spicy bite, borrowing much influence from Mozambican immigrants who had settled in the southern communities of Johannesburg after their homeland’s independence in 1975.
Chillies are regarded as a healthy food, as they contain virtually no fat or oil but do have high levels of vitamins C and A as well as minerals. The fiery plants are known to lower cholesterol through their heat component called capsaicin. Capsaicin is also a natural antibiotic that slows down the growth of bacteria in the body.
Since all Nando’s chickens are of prime quality and trimmed of excess fat before being flame-grilled, the cuisine gets high marks from health-conscious consumers. For those who are a little too chicken to eat the really hot stuff, all sauces are available in variants ranging from mild to extra hot. Nando’s has since expanded into supermarkets with a range of branded spices, marinades and sauces that are available in the same variants.
Five years after the opening of the first store, Nando’s expanded to the UK and now boasts over 50 stores in London alone, bringing a welcome taste of home not only to the large South African community there but also to the locals. Nando’s UK plans to add 30 to 40 new sites a year for the next four years, opening up to 160 new restaurants and virtually doubling in size.
The company’s adaptability has contributed enormously to its worldwide popularity. In many regions Nando's offers halaal and kosher chicken, and prides itself on always being open to change.
Nando’s has not neglected its corporate social responsibilities. In South Africa the company sponsored one of renowned adventurer Kingsley Holgate’s expeditions, named the Great Peri-Peri Adventure. Holgate’s burning mission, which coincided with his Outside Edge anti-malaria campaign, was to unearth folklore and recipes involving the African bird’s eye chilli, and to determine which peri-peri recipes were unique to specific regions, countries, tribes and villages throughout Africa.
The company has opened a bank account based in South Africa which will allow those wishing to help in the fight against malaria to donate towards the purchase of more malaria nets. The bank account is run under the auspices of Nando’s and all funds raised are deposited on a monthly basis into the Kingsley Holgate One Net One Life account.
A net costs the equivalent of $9 and those who donate this amount or more may request GPS co-ordinates which will pin-point the exact location, in Google Earth, of where their net was handed out.
Nando’s has also earned a reputation for its in-your-face advertising. In South Africa a television advert featuring a blind woman whose dog deliberately led her into a lamp post so it could eat the Nando's chicken she was carrying, was eventually withdrawn after numerous complaints were made to the South African Advertising Standards Authority.
Nando’s Australia launched an advertising campaign based on the 2002 hunger strike by detained illegal immigrants in that country. So determined were they not to eat that some detainees physically sewed their mouths closed. Nando’s irreverently proclaimed that strikers had decided to unsew their lips “after hearing the news that with every Nando's quarter chicken combo, Nando's were giving away an extra quarter chicken”.
The company also didn’t hesitate to jump on the Mandela bandwagon. A South African ad released soon after he was freed from 27 years of imprisonment featured an actor doing an impersonation of the great statesman talking about the ‘left wing’ and the ‘right wing’.