CEO of Belgian Waffle Co. Ankit Patel on Scaling a QSR in India and Building a Business with Waffles
BWC boasts of 200+ stores across 55+ Indian cities with an international presence in Nepal and Dubai.
Starting out as a humble kiosk in April 2015, Belgian Waffle Company has become one of the fastest-growing QSR chains in India within a short span of three years. The company boasts of 200+ stores across 55+ Indian cities with an international presence in Nepal and Dubai. It was started by senior business professional Ankit Patel with more than 15 years of experience. He has strong experience in the consumer domain across business development, strategic alliances, business strategy and financial management.
An alumnus of Indian School of Business, a Chartered Accountants and a Chartered Financial Analyst, Ankit started his career as an investment banker and then turned into an investment professional working for a buyout fund. Post that he went on to become an entrepreneur with his start-up FinTech.
He has been the CEO of The Belgian Waffle Co. since 2018 and has contributed tremendously to its growth. BWC has quickly become one of India`s go-to place for waffles, pancakes, and beverages. Ankit`s drive and passion will take BWC to newer heights in the years to come. Read the excerpts of an exclusive interview with the CEO of Belgian Waffle Co., in association with BW Disrupt:
1. You have a strong commerce-based educational background as you are a CA with a distinction in CA Final and an MBA graduate in finance and strategy from the Indian School of Business. Were you always interested in the business sector for a career?
I started my career in financial services working in Investment Banking and then with a buy-out Private Equity firm. Working for a buyout PE firm brought me in close contact with several consumer lead businesses and that is what piqued my interest and compelled me to move towards the business sector. I started enjoying the entire interplay between brands and consumers and how one can create a strong consumer play in India, a market that is one of the largest consumption stories to bet on for the next few decades
2. Can you tell us about the journey which led you to start The Belgian Waffle Co.?
I joined The Belgian Waffle Co. two years into its journey. It was a chanced meeting between the founder and me where one thing leads to another. What started out as a casual conversation over coffee lead to an eventual joining of hands and coming onboard The Belgian Waffle Co. as its CEO. The founder and I both had similar ideologies in the way businesses should operate and the underlying potential of our existing business.
When I had first seen the product offering and the operating model I had strongly felt that this brand could probably repeat the success of Dominos, the role model of QSR’s in India. I was confident in my abilities to make it the largest Indian QSR brand in the country and we are gradually and slowly inching towards our goal.
3. We know that The Belgian Waffle Co. is one of the first Waffle Specialty stations in India that offers unique, on-the-go waffle sandwiches. Could you take us on a brief journey of the company, its initial years of work, and its achievements?
We launched the brand officially in June 2015 at the INOX cinema in Mumbai, however prior to that over 6 months were spent developing the branding, recipes, vendors and systems. The success on day one was far greater than was anticipated and we grew even further as more people became aware. This gave us the confidence to start our very first standalone store in Chowpatty shortly after. Our prime locations served as our key marketing and awareness building avenues and once trials were generated, we saw our loyal customer base grow steadily. Initially we had to drive a lot of education of the product format as waffles were not something the average Indian was well versed with as a concept. However we used this as an opportunity to position the product as an anytime and portable snack/dessert in the form of a waffle sandwich. The supply chain model, recipes and processes were designed to scale with the goal of growing through franchising and we continued opening company outlets in parallel with franchised stores across India. Today we have over 240 stores across 65+ cities in India as well as Nepal & Bangladesh.
4. What would you say led to the success of the Belgian waffle? What are the secret ingredients which led to its popularity?
We focus on quality obsessively whether it comes to constantly perfecting our batter or developing new flavors. The quality and consistency of our product range is definitely our strength and a differentiator for us. We spent a lot of effort creating a product that is now widely appreciated, that has the perfect consistency of crispy on the outside and soft on the inside in spite of being completely eggless and at the same time kept it simple enough to scale providing the same consumer experience across our expanding footprint.
5. According to you, how big of a role does marketing play for the company considering the fact that there is a target audience of 25 years and below?
Our audience mainly comprises the Millenial and Gen Z TG. Keeping this in mind digital has always been our most preferred and cost effective medium to reach the right eyeballs - Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, SEO etc which makes up most of our mix. We also engage in some radio, local BTL activities, cross promotions and collaborations digitally and offline.
Initially our biggest marketing spends so to speak went towards prime locations with high visibility. This is what initially worked really well to create buzz, drive trials, brand awareness objective. This was in conjunction with social media, events and exhibitions, POS, bloggers and influencers, newspaper inserts and very hyper- local targeted approaches. We still do not deploy huge marketing budgets and utilize a similar mix with a more omnichannel approach. It is important to keep the brand and its product marketing fresh, engaging and interesting for this TG so marketing definitely plays a big role in driving brand salience, excitement and relevance.
6. What are the various challenges that the company has faced to maintain its demand in the market? How were they overcome?
There have been multiple challenges along the way in different forms – finding the right manpower, constant imitation from competition, growing online and offline discounting culture which eventually does a disservice to quality players.
However, despite the challenges we have faced, we firmly believe it is because of our uncompromising product quality and consistency as well as our scalable and proven model that we have been standing strong as the preferred and leading waffle QSR since inception.
7. In the initial stages, the year of a pandemic had instilled fear in everyone which led to a decline in the demand for restaurants. How severely did this phase affect the company?
No doubt this has been a very challenging phase and one that is quite unprecedented. For us too at The Belgian Waffle Co, we have been through a tumultuous few months from March onwards. In the peak lockdown months we too of course had stores temporarily shut or restricted with timings, material transport Pan India and logistics suffered, managing the ground operations team and managing to sustain without footfalls for the first couple months while making sure to keep the team motivated and incentivized to ensure the highest level of safety and SOPs was challenging. There were multiple internal and external challenges faced but our BWC family really came together and stepped up. We managed to tide through the really rough patches and then slowly scale up to ensure a smooth transition and new protocols as things started opening up. The initial months were the real challenge but we are now fortunately back on track with strong brand sales and have resumed our expansion journey.
8. What are the goals the company is determined on achieving in 2021? Are there any international expansion plans that the company is directed towards?
We have plans to increase our domestic and international footprint as well as launch our range of premixes and ready to eat snacks which will be the first few products as part of our FMCG range. We are also innovating with a new store menu with new flavours, stroopwafels, savoury waffles, a healthy range and waffle cakes.
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