#10Q: Dean Kowarski, KAUAI CEO’s challenge

Retailing Africa interviews Dean Kowarski, Real Foods and KAUAI CEO, on their provocative new campaign and plans to expand the brand in store and through home delivery.

Dean Kowarski, Real Foods and KAUAI CEO, wants to challenge South Africans to reflect on what they think is abnormal and what they would like to change going forward. #DontGoBackToAbnormal is a campaign for South Africans to start conversations that matter. Picking up on this idea of rebuilding a new, healthier lifestyle, KAUAI has launched its conversation-starter campaign to encourage positive behaviour change in South Africans. Setting up its billboards in the midst of the country’s fast-food valleys – and directly opposite some well-known fast food outlets, KAUAI is provoking thought around the ways that we have normalised things that we know deep down aren’t serving us, like junk food. The brand will also focus on building its retail pipeline, with a new range of healthy snacks, beverages and frozen meals, launching into national retailers over the coming months. Their new gourmet chicken burger chain, Free Bird, launched in May, is delivery-only for now due to Covid, on Uber Eats and Mr D.

1. Tell me more about your new campaign?

KAUAI has launched our #DontGoBackToAbnormal campaign, which asks South Africans to take an honest look at what was perceived as ‘normal’ prior to the COVID-19 pandemic; and whether they would like to go back to this abnormal ‘normal’, or make a positive change going forward. In particular, we are calling out bad eating habits that contribute to non-communicable diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure as abnormal; and are prompting South Africans to reflect on how they have been living their lives – and nudging them to make healthier choices.

2. What impact do you hope to have?

We want to get South Africans thinking about their health, and how the food they choose to eat impacts their health. South Africa has some of the highest rates of non-communicable diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure, which are a direct result of eating poorly. We hope that by highlighting the importance of eating well, we can start a healthy eating revolution that contributes to a healthier South Africa. And beyond healthy eating, we hope that this campaign sparks broader conversations about other abnormal situations that South Africans have accepted as normal in their everyday lives. The #DontGoBackToAbnormal campaign aims to provide a platform to start this conversation – we want to challenge South Africans to reflect on what they think is abnormal and what they would like to change going forward.

3. What is the conversation you are leading?

KAUAI’s role in the #DontGoBackToAbnormal campaign is to highlight the importance of healthy eating and how it impacts our overall health. COVID has highlighted the importance of having a heathy immune system; and eating healthy is one of the most important ways to boost your immune system. We want to get South Africans thinking about what they eat, where their food comes from, and how their food choices impact their own health, and also the health of our planet. We believe that where our food comes from is just as important as choosing the right types of foods (like fresh fruit and veggies, lean proteins, etc). We try to source locally as far as possible; also focus on more responsible farming methods like free range (for our chicken and eggs); and organic (for our coffee). The message is particularly relevant at the moment, as it is also National Nutrition Week in South Africa this month.

4. Has there been a reaction from the fast food outlets targeted?

We had an entertaining exchange with Nando’s on Twitter, but we haven’t had any feedback from any other fast food outlets as yet. We are open to discussions though – KAUAI’s mission is to make healthy eating more accessible and the more we can engage the industry on this topic, the more likely we can drive real change.

5. How has the Covid pandemic impacted your industry?

It has been a tough year for all South Africans, with many in the restaurant industry affected by temporary or permanent closures. KAUAI has faced similar challenges, but the team has pulled together and we have worked hard to pivot during lockdown; adapting to changing customer needs and safety requirements, and positioning KAUAI for growth post-Covid.

6. Tell us more about your strategy going forward?

Our overall strategy is to make it easier for customers to have access to healthy food from KAUAI, no matter where they are – that means more stores, different store formats, third party and own delivery, in supermarkets, at home through meal subscriptions, and finding new technology solutions (like our app) to make healthy eating even easier and more convenient. We will focus on building our retail brand, with a new range of healthy snacks, beverages and frozen meals, launching into national retailers over the coming months. We will also be opening several new stores in retail locations in the coming months, as we believe that COVID-19 has prompted many South Africans to prioritise their health. We have also been working on some exciting new developments in our KAUAI app, with our own delivery offered at selected stores on eco-friendly e-bikes, and some exciting new launches coming later this year.

7. What change do you hope to see in society post-Covid?

If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that we’re living in a world where our health cannot be taken for granted; we are all vulnerable. My sincere hope is that South Africans focus more on their health by choosing healthier foods and exercising more.

8. Do you have a life philosophy?

If you want it, you can make it happen, now! And always be fair.

9. How do you inspire others?

That’s a difficult one! I don’t purposefully set out to inspire others, but I do believe strongly in leading by example – KAUAI’s mission of making healthy eating accessible is very personal to me, as healthy eating and fitness are extremely important to me in my own life.

10. What is your superpower?

Listening – this allows you to learn; and also opens up space for your team to be creative and volunteer ideas that can move the business forward.



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