How EFG is rethinking its brand portfolio to turbocharge post-COVID growth

Managing director Martin Darby elaborates on the company’s omnichannel strategy and reveals key advantages of handling brands from various franchisors.

Regional food and beverage operator Express Food Group (EFG) is betting on its multi-brand delivery and takeaway cloud kitchens and food hubs to continue growth post-COVID, guided by its aim to solidify its omnichannel experience in the next few years.

A chain of the company’s Hungry Kitchens are in development in Phnom Penh Cambodia, which will serve as production and consolidation centres and a development hub for virtual brands.

“We believe that there is potential for multiple Hungry Kitchens. We also plan to take the Hungry Kitchen concept to Laos next year,” Managing Director Martin Darby told QSR Media in an exclusive interview.

EFG's own food delivery app, aptly named "HungryApp", already has over 100,000 subscribers. Next year, a loyalty system called "Hungry Rewards" will be introduced. Martin expects “consolidated orders" —where customers order a combination of items from EFG’s exclusive F&B brands from the HungryApp—to be an interesting growth opportunity.

“25% of our orders today are multi-brand,” he said, also revealing that their cashless transactions have skyrocketed to 46% from 5% two years ago due in part due to COVID.

EFG’s multi-format strategy is informed by expectations that revenues will be equally split between dine-in, delivery and takeaway.

The company, a master franchisee for Minor Food International for The Pizza Company and Swensen’s in Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos, is already trialling a food hub in Phnom Penh. 

Martin, who has been with the company since February 2019, highlighted brands need to be adaptable to customer needs and trends, citing experiments with her Dairy Queen franchisor with bike-up outlets and mobile trailers as examples. Meanwhile, EFG are also exploring exciting and innovative ways to reposition BarBQ Plaza and The Coffee Club to be less dine-in focused.

“Brands are living things,” Martin said. “Forget the fact [that] we're going to move out of COVID—the brands have to evolve anyway. They can't just stay static in one format, one product range and one design”

Regardless of format, Martin says they are aiming to grow their brand portfolio in community malls, service stations, and standalone sites in growing suburban locations.

In the next couple of years, he expects The Pizza Company, Krispy Kreme, and Dairy Queen as brands set for big growth. Swensen’s “also has significant potential”, he added, to complement their pizza offering.

Staying agile against supply chain disruptions
On labour, Martin reiterated opportunities to create more career paths for EFG's 1,500-plus employees and explore how they can utilise central kitchens and production units to lessen “laborious” tasks.

He also credited the company’s “phenomenal” relationship with franchisor Minor Food International and others for being able to stay agile against supply chain disruptions.

“A franchisor always needs to approve nominated suppliers and it may take six months in normal times. But we've often had to move faster in this COVID world, and that is where a relentless focus on internal QA [quality assurance] compliance and trusting long-term franchisor/franchisee relationships are so important,” he said.

Handling various brands from different franchisors also helped EFG in hastening virtual staff training.

“I'm able to pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey, why don't you have a look at what Brand A is doing because I really think it would be great if your brand could be doing that too". Sometimes if you work just with one brand you don't know what other brands are doing. I have the advantage. I know what all brands [that we operate] are doing and there's some great best practices and we've managed to speed things up in that area.”

Citing pent-up demand from consumers, Martin is optimistic EFG can continue its momentum.

“Within EFG there is a real positivism and enthusiasm for new things and trying new products and ideas,” he said. “We should speed up. We must evolve and improve, and we've got to enhance our offer. So even with customers coming back to dine-in, it's not time to relax. It's maintaining that momentum for continuous improvement.” 

“EFG is profitable and that has enabled the company to build up cash reserves, take advantage of many assets and opportunities in the markets that are much cheaper now than they were a few years ago. It's going to be a very busy year, next year. I’m absolutely convinced and excited by that.”

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