A Passion for Good Food
EFG Group is helping bring people across Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos together through its internationally renowned food and beverage offerings
Writer: Dani Redd | Project Manager: Donovan Smith
There is no sincerer love than the love of food, Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw was once quoted as saying.
Food isn’t just about nutrition; it’s also a way of celebrating cultural identity and bringing people together. Making memories through food is something that Martin Darby, Managing Director of Express Food Group (EFG), has long been passionate about.
“Dine-in has been the bedrock of the local F&B industry and with many local festivals and the important position of family, we see the dining experience continuing to grow and evolve, especially in our provincial cities,” he says.
Martin joined EFG in 2019 after an illustrious career in the industry, in the belief that the company is perfectly positioned to become one of the top F&B operators in Asia.
His optimism is easy to explain.
EFG employs over 1,500 people and has a strong operational presence in Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos. It is a partner of choice for leading brands in Southeast Asia – including several owned by Minor Food and Food Passion Group – as well as internationally known brands from the US, like Dairy Queen International and Krispy Kreme.
“We see our mission as understanding our customer needs and bringing them a portfolio of the best, most trusted local and international restaurant and kiosk brands,” Martin explains.
The Managing Director believes that EFG is able to stand apart as a partner of choice for F&B brands in the region thanks to its in-depth knowledge of local markets.
“We know our customers and markets intimately and therefore are able to work with our franchisors in developing innovative Instagrammable new food and beverage products,” Martin adds.
“Through local social media influencers and our number one presence in the market, we can bring these brands to the widest possible audience.”
A key factor that distinguishes EFG from other Southeast Asian F&B businesses is its skill in relationship building.
“To us relationships matter, and we go out of our way to build close relationships with our franchise partners, our customers and our employees,” Martin says.
Franchise partners can be assured that EFG will maintain high standards of quality, service and cleanliness, and will invest on building their brands in the region.
Furthermore, EFG can be assured of the backing of its parent company, RMA Group, which provides procurement and logistics support to EFG from Bangkok, where most of its inventory is purchased. It operates an international benchmarked product recall and tracing system, with food storage in temperature controlled warehouses in Phnom Penh, Yangon and Vientiane, ensuring products always remain fresh and at their best. Furthermore, sourcing from within the region enables EFG to provide food at good value prices to customers.
Meanwhile, EFG also realises the importance of employee satisfaction, and invests significant time in staff development, training and wellbeing. It offers a diverse set of careers – from restaurant operations to delivery drivers and support services like finance and supply chain – as well as offering brand-specific training by some of the world’s leading international F&B brands.
Expansion and digital innovation
Over the next couple of years, EFG intends to push substantial growth of its physical stores, expanding into provincial cities and the suburbs of Phnom Penh, Vientiane and Yangon.
It is also working on opening multiple delivery-focused outlets of The Pizza Company over the next 12 months, the first of which was launched in March 2020. The Pizza Company is one of Minor Food’ brands, which originated in Thailand in 2001 and has since established over 500 outlets across 10 countries.
Another notable project EFG undertook in April 2020 was the building of a purpose-built Krispy Kreme HACCP standard production unit in Phnom Penh, catering to ever-increasing demand for what is arguably the world’s most popular doughnut brand.
But then coronavirus hit. EFG’s countries of operation – Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar – may have seen only a few cases, but its populations were still subject to strict lockdowns and, later, social distancing measures. However, Martin remains optimistic in the face of the pandemic.
“COVID-19 has affected the business in terms of temporary and localised disruptions to dine-in services, but has also led to customers seeking out trusted international brands where we have been able to play our part,” he says. “We have continued to open new stores and, unless required by government to close, have operated all stores throughout the pandemic.”
The COVID-19 outbreak has also led to EFG accelerating its digitisation strategy through a variety of services, introducing contactless delivery, e-payments, e-menus and at-curb collection.
It is also in the process of rolling out its ecommerce delivery business, Hungry?™, which will soon cover all of Phnom Penh. Its key offering is HungryApp™, a revolutionary food and delivery app which will enable customers to select items from its multiple trusted brands in a single order. It also offers a free, 30-minute delivery, and will cater to a growing market for takeaway and home delivered food which has been accelerated by the pandemic.
“Our physical store presence will be complimented by a fast expanding ecommerce delivery business, the potential growth of more owned brands and the arrival of new international brands,” Martin comments.
“Our latest project launching in 2021 is an innovative customer loyalty programme. Our brand portfolio will continue to evolve and a forward thinking, exciting and customer centric approach is guaranteed.”
In short, the Managing Director is positive about the future of EFG.
“We are long-term investors and remain positive on the future growth potential of each of the markets where we trade,” he confirms.
This is in part due to infrastructure growth in the region. For example, the Kunming-Vientiane railway, scheduled to launch in late 2021, will open up provincial Lao cities and facilitate growth of F&B businesses. The Cambodian government is investing in intercity roads and rail networks, and Myanmar cities such as Naypyidaw and Mandalay demonstrate fantastic growth potential.
“EFG is extremely well placed to take advantage of these growth opportunities and has the portfolio of brands and now an ecommerce delivery aggregator business to meet the fast changing needs of local and expat customers seeking trusted brands,” Martin concludes.