FEJ meets Mark Baxter, operations innovation manager at KFC UK & Ireland, to talk kitchen innovation, supplier relationships and the catering equipment holy grail.
You recently unveiled a semi open-plan kitchen design at your concept store in Bracknell. To what degree is that setting the benchmark for other operations in the company?
As part of the Yum! group, we have got strong links across the world to the other KFCs and Pizza Huts and Taco Bells. There is always equipment innovation going on across those three brands and because the UK, Australia, South Africa and France would be the key development markets, we can play an important part in equipment development that other people then take on. This [Bracknell] kitchen design is important for us, but it will be equally important for a number of other people around the world who will start to take that on.
Can we expect to see the new semi open-plan kitchen design extended across multiple sites in the UK?
I think the reality is that if there are any new builds, certainly from the middle of 2015 onwards, then they should have this kitchen design put into them where space would allow. As we start to retro-fit some of this into the restaurants, the shape of existing buildings may limit us in the roll-out, but intrinsically we do want to be [replicating the Bracknell store design].
What are the credentials you look for in a foodservice equipment supplier?
I think the whole world has changed over the last decade and CSR has become very important. As an equipment procuring team we have an important part to play in that overall strategy, so we have got to make sure we are working with suppliers who themselves have a strong CSR platform. New bits of kit have got to show reduced energy, reduced water usage, reduced carbon footprint, reduced waste — it is a key part of any tender we will be going through.
How important is it to have a strong relationship with your suppliers?
If we make an investment, we want to see the return on that investment. We will be depreciating pieces of kit over seven years, so we are going to be having a good relationship with suppliers. I certainly work under the principle that says we would want to involve our current suppliers as well as new suppliers in any tender. And we should be doing the morally right thing in giving everybody a fair crack of the whip and providing clear transparency about what we are trying to achieve.
What is the biggest catering equipment challenge that KFC faces?
The fries ‘dump’ — or holding unit — is probably a key one for us. Being able to cook and then hold fries for a maximum of five minutes is a challenge in any QSR business. We would have loved to have been able to find a piece of kit that was better at holding fries. I don’t think we have found that yet, so for me personally if there is one area I would love to improve further it would be that piece of kit. It needs to be something that is operationally more efficient, keeps the fries at a better quality but comes in at a reasonable cost.
Click on the link for more insight into the development of KFC’s UK kitchens: The Colonel cometh: KFC plans kitchens of the future