#Career focus with Gugu Majola, Senior New Product Development Manager at KFC

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Product development and innovation, specifically in the food industry, is crucial. Some may even call it the lifeline of the industry, ensuring competitiveness and bolstering consistent demand – especially in a time where consumers are quick to jump between brands when they are either not happy, or bored with the status quo.

As such, constant creativity, and recreating meals to ensure customer satisfaction and keep them ‘coming back for more’ is essential. To talk more about product development in the fast-food industry, we speak to Gugu Majola, Senior New Product Development Manager at KFC.

Question: Tell us a little bit more about your job?

Answer: I am the Senior New Product Development Manager at KFC South Africa, heading up the New Product Development department. In this role, I am responsible for the team that comes up with exciting, innovative food items and meal ideas to be added to the menu across our restaurants. Additionally, I also modify and improve existing KFC products to make sure that these continue to meet, and exceed, evolving consumer preferences – which means keeping an ear to the ground around what consumers love, and don’t quite like, about different menu items to ensure that we can remain relevant.

Working at KFC is exciting. The brand is not afraid to reinvent itself when it comes to menu selection and I am exceptionally proud to be part of an innovative andrelevant brand entrenched in South African culture. From working on the next tasty burger, to testing a new flavour in our famous wings and dabbling with new recipes that keep customers coming back for more, really makes my job a truly incredible one.

I also constantly engage with suppliers to keep abreast of new trends and technology within the food chain to ensure that we are consistently ahead of the curve and identifying best practice methodology when it comes to product development. After all, the way too many hearts is through the stomach and what better way than with freshly, prepared delicious food.

Question: Why did you end up choosing this career path?

Answer: Firstly, I love working with food. I also like to think differently and innovatively, and this job allows me to do both. I still get very excited when I see a new product being launched in our restaurants and customers getting excited – it’s the perfect job in which to truly explore innovation and apply my technical know-how. And let’s be honest – who doesn’t love good food?

Question: Please share the important skills you need to have in this role?

Answer:

  • Good communication! On the job you engage with people from all walks of life regularly – from a supplier production manager to a professor at a university who has recently developed technology to produce quality packaging material for example and so, being able to interact at all levels is crucial to ‘getting it right’.
  • Planning and execution of product development strategies demands good training and leadership skills to ensure that all training programs aimed at educating KFC restaurant team members on new products are executed efficiently and deliver on our taste guarantee to our customers.
  • Innovative thinking. Understanding consumer nuances and thinking differently about how to offer them something unique that they will love, is key. That means having good trend and product knowledge is essential to not only innovate around product but also in supporting the marketing department with new product launches.
  • Solid technical knowledge is paramount to support restaurants in ensuring food safety aligned to our stringent brand standards and compliance with government regulations.

Question: Can you tell us what you studied to work in product development?

Answer: I studied Food Technology and currently hold a B.Tech in Food Technology and Management Advancement program. We had a career symposium in grade 11 at school and Food Technology was one of the possible careers presented. I was fascinated by this career as it seemed the perfect combination of my two passions – technical skill and food creativity. I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do and so I applied and was accepted at Cape Technikon to study – as they say, the rest is history.

Question: How did you end up working at KFC?

Answer: I was head-hunted by an employment agent. When the agent sent through the job specifications, I knew it was a perfect fit from a skills and culture perspective and I officially applied for the job, which I was awarded. 

Question: Pros and Cons about your job?

Answer:

Pro: To see your idea grow from an initial concept, into a fully launched product, which is well received by the market.

Con: There is not one thing I don’t like about my job. I love what I do. It is exceptionally interesting and really keeps you on your toes.

Question: Do you have advice for those intending to take this career path?

Answer: To anyone planning on taking this role, they must know that every day is different and unique. This industry is also very broad, there are different areas of food technology that they can explore, so they don’t have to limit themselves. What’s more, they will get to work with a variety of people and departments and as such, will learn conflict management, project management and different organisational processes, which will be a great steppingstone into a leadership role.

Question: So, what does the future hold?

Answer: I am focused on continuously improving the quality of our products in line with the development and successful implementation of new products to be launched nationally.

In terms of looking forward, KFC always has exciting opportunities to move upwards and into cross functional roles – so my future with the brand is really dependent on where I want to see myself grow within the organisation, and the opportunities are endless. KFC is a brand that fully embraces employee growth and development and I am excited about what the future holds.