In Conversation with Pannkaj Neeraj

CEO, Wai Wai City
Wednesday, 13 Dec 2017
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Pannkaj Neeraj, the CEO of Wai Wai City has 18 years of experience in the QSR and F&B Retail space. He has played a pivotal role with management positions with prominent brands in the F&B Industry such as Pizza Hut, Barista Lavazza, Gloria Jean\'s Coffees, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Fish & Co. (a Singapore based QSR chain) and more. Wai Wai City is India\'s first QSR noodle bar concept brought together by CG Corp Global. Celebrating varied Asian flavors in vibrant surroundings at pocket friendly prices and options to customize, it aims to spread its appeal across all ages and and tastes. Wai Wai City is working on their International roll-out across the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Europe. The brand hopes to transform a cult snack into an all new brand experience across multiple formats - food courts, self standing kiosks, standalone outlets, highway formats and an integrated format.
About
Pannkaj Neeraj, the CEO of Wai Wai City has 18 years of experience in the QSR and F&B Retail space. He has played a pivotal role with management positions with prominent brands in the F&B Industry such as Pizza Hut, Barista Lavazza, Gloria Jean's Coffees, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Fish & Co. (a Singapore based QSR chain) and more. Wai Wai City is India's first QSR noodle bar concept brought together by CG Corp Global. Celebrating varied Asian flavors in vibrant surroundings at pocket friendly prices and options to customize, it aims to spread its appeal across all ages and and tastes. Wai Wai City is working on their International roll-out across the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Europe. The brand hopes to transform a cult snack into an all new brand experience across multiple formats - food courts, self standing kiosks, standalone outlets, highway formats and an integrated format.

Given your work experience, what's the challenge of having international chains / brands start their innings in a developing market like India?

The biggest challenge brands face in an ever-evolving market like India is getting the right real estate at a reasonable cost. There is a big gap in demand and supply. This leads us to a situation where multiple brands are locking their horns for the limited space available in a trade area. Unfortunately the cold war kind of situation results into the cost getting escalated to uncontrollable levels. The occupancy cost is one of the biggest factors in deciding the sustainability of the business.

Availability of trained manpower is the next big challenge every other brand is facing currently. The pool is small and demand is huge resulting into higher attrition levels being witnessed.

Statutory clearances and licensing is another challenge which hampers the execution timelines resulting in cost over-runs

Wai Wai City plans 1500 outlets by 2020. What is the strategy in place for the brand's growth and expansion?

We already have a robust sales and distribution team in place catering to about 30 countries including India. We have partners who have been working with the brand for long, and now want to establish Wai Wai City outlets of their own. So, for us it is more like a case of forward integration when it comes to establishing Wai Wai City restaurants.

In India alone we have visibility to launch between 750-1000 outlets in next 5 years. Similar kind of International expansion plan is in place staring early next year. The idea is to have these outlets spread across Indian Sub-Continent, South East Asia, Middle East and North America.

Our consumers have had an emotional attachment with the brand since their childhood and are delighted to have the noodles in a completely new “Avatar”

How is the consumer undergoing a change in terms of dining, ordering in or takeaways? What are some of the interesting data analysis at Wai Wai City on consumer behavior?

We have a healthy mix of Dine In and Take Away/Delivery transactions. All a consumer needs is convenience. We have realized that our Take Away and Delivery business is substantial during the weekdays. On weekends our Mall outlets do wonderfully well. It implies that people who order Wai Wai for their lunch sitting in their offices actually enjoy going to Wai Wai City with their families on weekends and holidays. The pocket friendly prices make these phenomena a big success. These signs are very positive and give us confidence of expanding our reach rapidly.

When should brands, in your view, undertake a re-launch strategy as part of its growth plans?

The market dynamics have changed a lot in recent times. There can’t be a set formula for re-launch of a brand. It might not be necessary to re-launch at all for a brand to witness good growth. What is more important is that how a brand maintains the freshness and appeal in a consumer’s mind. Keeping it simple, a brand must present a reason to each and every customer to come back. Once this objective is achieved, there will not be hindrances in the path of growth.

Though you have worked in the QSR and F&B Retail space for several years, what's the opportunity and the challenge that Wai Wai City offers you in your new leadership role?

The entire concept of live Noodle Bars in multiple formats, serving products at a pocket friendly price sounded so exciting. The rapid and extensive growth plan presented to me looked like a big opportunity at the same time very challenging. So, I decided to accept the challenge and take this new role with CG Corp Global. I am confident that my team can achieve the desired results successfully in the stipulated timeframe planned by the Investors

How important is digital media for brands today and what is Wai Wai City doing in terms of communicating its brand ethos with the consumers?

Digital media plays a vital role in today’s scenario for any brand, which serve customers directly. Though the space is already over crowded, there are opportunities for everyone. Digital media help us reach our consumers in a much faster ways. It is a medium where we see a two-way communication with our consumers. This is quite healthy for the brand as well as its business. We will ensure that we are present through mediums, which the current generation of consumers loves to use while reaching us.

Going forward what will be the communication and advertising strategy for the brand?

We will continue to use both the traditional and non-traditional ways of communicating with our consumers. Our plans will be to reach a customer the way he/she is comfortable with. Giving the customer a reason to visit our outlets will be the only objective we will approach a customer with. We are sure that the experience (Product + Service) of a customer will present him/her with many reasons to continue visiting us for their meals.

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