The Nando’s story began back in 1987 in the vibrant city of Johannesburg, South Africa when Fernando Duarte took friend and colleague Robbie Brozin to an eatery in Rosettenville. Here, RLI sits down with Trudi van Niekerk, CEO of International Franchising to discuss how the brand is continuing to grow its presence on the global restaurant scene.

Blown away by the unique flavour of the flame-grilled PERi-PERi chicken, Duarte and Brozin knew it was a taste that had to be shared with the world, and so Nando’s was born and the rest, as they say, is history. Some 33 years later the business has grown into a global success story that operates 1,200 company-owned and franchise-run restaurants in 21 countries across the world.

“In terms of business growth and development, the brand has experienced another great year,” explains Trudi van Niekerk, CEO of International Franchising at Nando’s. “We have invested globally in opening new restaurants as well as refurbishing older ones and realigning them to our latest Casa design ethos. This has ensured that we continue to excite our loyal customer base whilst making Nando’s accessible to more people.”
The company has also continued to invest in its Nandocas (the name for all members of the Nando’s family) as it remains a key focus moving forward. Various creative employee programmes have been installed to ensure people are able to maximise their personal potential and thereby make the restaurants great places to work.

A great example of this is the International Griller’s Challenge. Once top honours have been decided at the National Griller’s Challenge, the very best are then invited to compete at the International Griller’s Challenge along with winners from other countries. The main event takes place in a different host country every year and offers attendees the chance to get to know each other and learn about the culture and visit some of the sights of the host country. Recent restaurant openings include a flagship location that launched in The Dubai Mall back in November. The company is incredibly proud of this prime location as the restaurant sits just below the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa with an incredible view of the Dubai Fountains.

“To be in a world-class location like The Dubai Mall is a big achievement for the brand globally and it is a testament to the success of the business in the UAE specifically. The opening was closely followed by the opening of the Mall of the Emirates location – another key site for the brand,” says van Niekerk. The CEO for International Franchising went on to explain how the company is always looking for opportunities to grow the brand, and at the moment there are exciting developments in the Middle East region, whilst plans are also in place for growth in most of its existing territories.

“We are looking at new markets and locations all the time. Our focus for the time being is to firmly establish current Nando’s markets before venturing into new territories.” Having built a strong and instantly recognisable company, producing new menu items and innovative ways for guests to continue travelling to their nearest restaurant is pivotal when looking forward. Niekerk argues that evolution is essential for any brand, but they remain careful not to move too far away from what the company is famous for, which is delicious flame-grilled PERi-PERi chicken.

Any new concept or innovation is created to address an acute consumer need and it is rooted in the rest of the menu, where the company feels they can offer its guests something new to try with their favourite chicken dish. The rise of social media has allowed the business to talk with rather than talk to its fans and offers the opportunity to show the human side of the brand personality.

Social media and the digital arms of Nando’s are critical channels as they reach out to new people across different geographies, languages and cultures “For a youthful brand, this is a space where we can engage with our fans in real-time, allowing us to target with more focus – making us more relevant and effective,” says Niekerk. “Nando’s is so much more than just a chicken restaurant, and we believe that people who grow to love our food develop a deep appreciation for the many layers within the brand.” At the heart of the brand’s success around the world is an incredible company culture that is driven by a core set of values. These values are lived by all Nandocas and drive the business forward in all of its markets, backed by a truly unique product and experience she explains.

So what would Niekerk say is the ethos of the company? “We are driven by our five core values of pride, passion, courage, integrity and family. We seek to serve fans with pride and passion, communicate with courage and integrity, and treat everyone we serve, work with or engage with as if they were family. The Nando’s brand has grown into a global success story by pursuing these five principals without compromise.” Looking ahead, Niekerk believe that the story of the brand has just begun. “Our biggest challenge and opportunity as a global business will be to stay true to our roots as we grow, continuing to change people’s lives for the better.”