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Birthday Wishes

In Focus
NAME:Eleonora Nencheva
POSITION:General Manager
LOCATION:Sofia, Bulgaria
As KFC Bulgaria celebrates the 30th anniversary of its first store opening, General Manager Eleonora Nencheva has her sights set on brick-and-mortar growth, digitalization and positioning the company as a modern brand with social purpose.

In 2023, every one of Bulgaria’s seven million-strong population ate two KFC hot wings and one KFC strip each.

“We sold over 14 million hot wings,” explains Eleonora Nencheva, the newly-appointed General Manager of KFC Bulgaria, to The CEO Magazine.

Bulgarians’ taste for the fried chicken isn’t limited to just hot wings. The whole KFC menu has been embraced by the population since opening its first store in the capital, Sofia, in 1994.

“Last year, every second person also ate a burger and every third person a piece of chicken,” Nencheva continues. “We’re very proud.”

But, she adds, it’s not down to chance that the brand has enjoyed such robust sales.

“Everything is made fresh, from scratch. Nothing is pre-made.”

“You can imagine how much hard work happens behind the scenes in the kitchen to serve up this great chicken,” she continues. “Everything is made fresh, from scratch. Nothing is pre-made.”

It is this focus on fresh products that sets KFC Bulgaria apart from its competitors, Nencheva explains.

“We have the best-tasting chicken in the Bulgarian market,” she says.

SAMEX Bulgaria, the operator of the brand in the country, has made investing in food quality a priority.

“People often assume that we are serving frozen or imported chicken, but no, at SAMEX, we work only with local suppliers and it’s 100 percent fresh Bulgarian chicken, delivered on a daily basis.”

The meat is marinated at SAMEX’s purpose-built center, which opened in 1996, where it is then distributed to its restaurants around the country.

Competitive Advantages

As KFC Bulgaria celebrates the 30th anniversary of its first store opening, Nencheva is hoping that the number of KFC restaurants will also soon reach 30. “This year we’re aiming to open four restaurants in line with our anniversary,” she says.

Instead of adding to its footprint in Sofia, she is scoping out opportunities in cities where the population is less than 100,000 people. “We see that people in smaller cities are also craving our epic chicken,” she says. “So that’s where we are focused.”

The goal is to be the leader in the Bulgarian market by 2027.

“People in smaller cities are also craving our epic chicken.”

“We are not far, but we have some work to do,” Nencheva admits.

Along with expanding its brick and mortar presence, she says the business is working tirelessly on digitalization. “I’m proud to say that we have implemented kiosks in all our 26 restaurants, which makes our customers’ journey much easier,” she says.

It has also rolled out a new software for its home delivery services – a segment that accounts for 30 percent of all transactions. Called LYVE, the new technology allows for tracking of orders, to ensure every one is delivered correctly and on time.

Other innovations are in the pipeline, including a new app and new website that will, she predicts, give KFC Bulgaria a competitive advantage.

Smarter and More Sustainable

Nencheva’s ambitions are being boosted by the current economic conditions in Bulgaria, including low inflation and income growth. “People have more disposable income,” she explains.

In this favorable climate, SAMEX is looking to position KFC Bulgaria as a modern brand with a social purpose. “Sustainability is an important area of focus,” she says.

In line with KFC’s global owner, YUM! Brands, SAMEX has swapped plastic bags for paper bags, plastic cutlery for wooden cutlery and plastic straws for paper straws.

“Sustainability is an important area of focus.”

“We have removed wet wipes and plastic cups and we have new transport packaging for sauces,” she adds.

In the past year, the company has eliminated over 5,000 kilograms of plastic and 500 kilograms of aluminum. “This is just the beginning, too,” she enthuses.

KFC Bulgaria also follows YUM! Brands in its commitment to CSR initiatives, which range from supporting charities such as the Bulgarian Red Cross to programs that integrate refugees into the community through employment avenues. For Nencheva, who hails from a background in higher education, such values also mirror her own.

“I’m a strong believe in all forms of support within the community,” she explains.

Winning Ingredients

Aside from the brand’s namesake ingredient, 80 percent of all food served by KFC Bulgaria comes from domestic suppliers. “The vision is to help the Bulgarian economy,” she explains.

The supply chain is able to flex as consumer preferences shift in Bulgaria, as with elsewhere in the world.

“The vision is to help the Bulgarian economy.”

“Consumers are looking for healthier options, so we are working on changing our menus, offering choices such as a variety of veggie burgers, fresh salads and juices,” she says.

Yet the popularity of the Colonel Sanders’ 11 secret herbs and spices shows no sign of waning in Bulgaria. And, for Nencheva, she’s found her own set of ingredients to explain three decades – and counting – of success. And what they are, she’s prepared to share.

“Passion, innovation, quality, inclusivity, customer-centricity, sustainability, team empowerment, adaptability, community engagement, data-driven decisions and positivity: these are our 11 secret ingredients of success,” she concludes with a smile.

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