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  • Dec 23rd, 2013
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Fast food industry has grown rapidly in Pakistan over the last decade or so, and the latest addition to the club is Burger King. Business Recorder Research got a chance to meet Burger King's Asia Pacific President, Elias Diaz Sese, who shed light on Burger King's reasons of entering Pakistan and the growth strategy. The discussion was later joined by the CEO of the Burger King franchise in Pakistan, Aqueel Hassan. Following is an edited brief of the hour-long discussion.

Elias Diaz Sese, President of the Burger King Asia Pacific took BR Research through the rich journey of Burger King in the world. Started way back in 1954, Burger King is now proudly the second largest fast food burger chain in the world. The experience spread over half a century is based on quality product and dining experiences; it attracts millions every day to Burger King's outlets across the world.

Burger King has firm belief in franchising the business to work with able partners across the world, partiality in the Asia Pacific. Elias went on to say that Pakistan is the latest addition in the long list of Burger King's family, and more astonishingly the first country in South Asia.

Elias was quick to answer when asked 'why Pakistan' saying that more than 180 million people, who are very big consumers of meat, made it an easy decision for Burger King to enter Pakistan. He also pointed out that the growing young population and the demographics of Pakistan are hugely in favour for an entity like Burger King to enter and succeed in Pakistan.

The presence of an experience campaigner in MCR Group also encourages Burger King to spread its wings in Pakistan, according to Elias. "MCR has been running the food business quite successfully for many years and another important aspect is the leadership of teams which MCR does very well," said Elias.

"We believe strongly in Pakistan's growing middle-income class and consumerism economy, which is why we are here," further added Elias, strengthening his argument why Burger King has made an entry into Pakistan before any other South Asian country. Elias also hinted on launching Burger King in the neighbouring India soon.

Meat consumption is also labelled as a sound reason why Pakistan was preferred over other countries in the region, along with the massive young population.

Asked about the general perception that Burger King has not sold hard in the way its competitors did when they first came to Pakistan, Elias was quick to point out that: Burger King is not shy". "We just want to do it in a humble way," added the Asia Pacific President. Finding the right partners and growing step by step is Burger King's strategy in Pakistan, according to Elias.

"Had we been reluctant, we would not have grown to four outlets in less than four months in just one neighbourhood in the metropolitan city," aptly pointed out Elias. If things go as per plans, Burger King will soon be expanding its presence in Karachi by the end of 2013, which is just a matter of few days now.

The Chief Executive Officer of the MCR Limited, Aqueel Hassan joining the discussion told that the core reason for starting in Karachi was the relative ease of doing business. "We could have started from anywhere, but we chose Karachi because of our widespread presence and the relative ease of training and mobilising our human resources."

"The infrastructure in Karachi plays a huge role in a business like ours, where quality human resource is easily at our disposal and we can mobilise it much smoother and then look forward to share the experience in other cities," added Hassan. On law and order troubles in the city, Hassan was not overly concerned, saying that it does affect the business but all business have by and large got accustomed to it; therefore, law-and-order is not the biggest challenge facing fast food franchises in the city.

Hassan brushed out the perception that Burger King's first four branches opening in just one neighbourhood has anything to do with it being elitist. "We had to start from somewhere-that is it. We will soon be expanding to other areas in Karachi, which you will see very shortly," said Hassan. "We are not targeting the elite class or the higher income brackets, our target market primarily is the middle-income group, and we aspire to reach out that group."

Joining the discussion, Elias said Burger King Pakistan wants to do it in the right way, instead of expanding left, right and centre. "A lot of research goes into the process before deciding launching a new branch, and we are working on it," said Hassan. He further added that by the end of 2014, Burger King will be present in almost all major cities of the country, including the likes of Peshawar.

Elias further added that Burger King's entry to Pakistan is not a result of the success of its close competitors, such as Hardees and Fat Burger, both of whom have recently launched in Karachi and enjoyed good success. "There is space for everyone, and we see ample space for Burger King in Pakistan," said Elias.

As the discussion digressed towards the competitive environment in the fast food industry, MCR CEO Hassan said he is not overly concerned about the growing number of chains especially in the pizza segment. "Pizza Hut still remains the market leader by a fair margin and we have by and large retained our business of late, growing at a decent pace," said Hassan.

On Burger King's plans as a going concern, Elias confidently told us that Burger King is here to stay and to grow the right way. "Pakistan is a great country, with great potential and we believe in the economy of Pakistan, which is why we are here first before any other country in South Asia," concluded Elias.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2013

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