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New entrants push iconic brands out of fast-food trade

By Awal Mohammed | September 27th 2020 at 08:00:00 GMT +0300

A section of Sonford Fish & Chips, one of the new eateries in the Nairobi CBD dealing in chips, chicken, fish and sausages. [David Njaaga, Standard]

Kevin Ndirangu reminisces the good old days when they used to dine within the Nairobi Central Business District (CBD). The 57-year-old says the younger generation will never know what ‘real fast food’ is.

To him, Kenchic in particular, was the answer to anybody who went drinking and craved something meaty at 1am. The joint operated round-the-clock - together with Wimpies.

“What fast food do you have? My generation knows what chips is, we lived for the weekends to stroll to town and savour the best, from fish, chips to chicken,” says Ndirangu.

His argument and those of his generation is anchored on the exit of many old fast-food brands from the city. The closure of these eating joints can be traced back in early 2000, after local entrepreneurs flooded the market with new units.

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The new entrants offered faster service, and were affordable, which saw the young generation opt for fresher taste.

This, together with mismanagement that bedevilled some brands catapulted the slow death of the once-famous Nairobi’s fast foods hotels.

The most painful exit, as Ndirangu admits is the departure of Kenchic. “There is a particular taste associated with the Kenchic fries, fish and chicken that cannot be replaced with all these new fast food hotels,” he says.

Kenchic Ltd came into existence in 1984 after acquiring assets from BAT Kenya Developments Ltd in 1983. The company’s operation at the time of its acquisition was at three localities.

One was the Athi River, where they had a breeder farm and hatchery. Their broiler farm was in Tigoni and a processing plant in Limuru. The firm started by producing 20,000 day-old chicks per week and a processing capacity of 5,000.

While the company was struggling to shake off competition from the local entrepreneurs, the entrance of foreign franchise spelt doom for the enterprise.

Chicken Inn and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) joined the Kenyan market, ending the famous three in one offer at Kenchic - quarter chicken, a half plate of fries and a cold drink either soda or fresh juice to complete the pack as the joint closed shop in 2016.

However, the current generation seems to be giving entrepreneurs value for their investment. According to Nairobi County, there are more than 1,500 licensed eating places in the city with more than 80 per cent of these being fast food joints.

And the number is not about to reduce. Pending applications still lie unprocessed at the county licensing department. And the future looks bright. With a bulging middle class and supporting other fringe industries, the hot meals on wheels are not going anywhere any time soon.

Industry insiders say as long as there is demand for chips and the burgers, there will always be someone to meet that need.

According to Antonietta Wangui, the owner of a fast food joint in Nairobi, the huge population of young people thronging to the city centre daily sustains her business. “My clientele are young people, who want a quick bite during lunch hours without spending much,” she says.

Her argument is backed by the emergence of mid-level colleges in the city, with major universities opening branches. The emergence of e-commerce has also boosted investors in this sector.

However, Covid-19 has hit this sector hard. “With the closure of universities, we have lost a huge chunk of our customers, but we expect things to bounce back when schools reopen,” notes Wangui.

Kevin Ndirangu Nairobi Kenchic
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