KFC was the first Western fast-food company to open in China, opening its ground-breaking outlet in 1987.
By the time Joey Wat joined the company as president of KFC China in 2014, however, the company’s pioneering streak was waning. In particular, the global chain was falling behind in a country where online was already defining the new retail experience.
Wat’s immediate response was to upgrade the firm’s digital capabilities to match consumer behavior. For instance, in 2015 she introduced the first digital payment process. By 2019, over 80% of online and offline purchases at KFC were cashless.
In 2018, Wat became CEO of KFC’s parent brand, Yum China, expanding her portfolio to include Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, among others. The company now has more than 9,000 stores and employs over 450,000 people across every province and autonomous region of China.
Maintaining consistent innovation at this scale is daunting, but Wat is not fazed. Despite the effects of the pandemic on business operations, she is still excited by the long-term growth potential of China’s retail food sector.
“The impact of the pandemic will, however, leave a legacy of the increased importance of delivery and takeaway,” she tells Business Insider. “Key to growth will be digital capabilities and utilizing both online and offline platforms to attract and retain customers.”