What SMEs can learn from how this 20-year-old brand is evolving to capture a new market

Updated on 18 July 2016

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What SMEs can learn from how this 20-year-old brand is evolving to capture a new mark


Brands get old, and with the prevailing ‘out with the old in with the new’ mentality, startups are celebrated sometimes at the expense of the older, more established enterprises. Keeping up can be a challenge for older brands, particularly in an environment where they are faced with having to keep up with trends and often, disruptive competition. This is a challenge that a brand like News Café knows all too well.

In its heyday the 20-year-old café-bar and cocktail franchise was one of the most popular cocktail hangouts for the urban market.

In order to keep its clientele and market share, in  2014 News Café began working towards rebranding.

The question is: how is News Café getting it right?

Their approach is simple, says Varina Singh, marketing support specialist for News Café – give customers what they want.

“We offer our customers a complete social entertainment experience, in the perfect venue that is in line with the urban social market that frequents our stores,” she says.

Launched two decades ago and having been voted best cocktail bar for 17 years in a row at the Leisure Options Best of Joburg Readers’ Choice Awards, the group is well-loved by urban sophisticates both at home and across the continent for consistently creating a vibe for every occasion, says Singh.

She says this evolution of the brand together with the customers can be seen in their new venues in Rosebank, Newtown and Hatfield, which sport a contemporary feel in their decor and trend-watching menu with new food items incorporating smashed burgers and Mexican items that are taking the global market by storm.

News Café has now also expanded beyond South Africa launching restaurants around the continent including Botswana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Namibia

SME South Africa speaks with Singh about embracing a new generation of patrons as well as why keeping an ear close to the ground was their best bet to keeping the brand relevant.

Adapting to change

There was a need for change and in order for us to remain top of mind in the food and beverage industry and be the best in the industry we needed to move in a direction that fits with our ever-changing consumer. We needed to adapt and embrace the new generations of patrons that we find in our current market and ensure that the look we are going for is going to be sustainable. This change represents an unveiling of the direction that all our stores will be moving in over the coming years.

“In order for us to be the best in the industry we needed to move in a direction that fits with our ever-changing consumer”

Growing as the world gets smaller

The exposure [that the local customer’s increased exposure to more international brands such as Starbucks] is great for us and we strive to live up to international standards and trends and as a brand we have set the benchmark of high quality and premium products that allows us to compete in these markets.

Staying relevant and ahead of the trends

Time is a big factor and it does take a long time to revamp all stores in line with the new look. In terms of keeping the brand relevant, we do intensive research in our current market and internationally to ensure we are always ahead of the trends. We want to set the benchmark and be leaders in our field.

Finding a balance between evolving customers and brand consistency

With an ear close to the ground, and valuable feedback provided by our customers [we are able to keep our brand evolving with our customers]. We really listen to what they want. We also make sure that even though we may implement new ideas in terms of food and beverage that they are always of the highest standard and made with the finest ingredients hand selected by us. It is through a lot of testing and support from our franchisees that we develop and maintain consistency throughout the brand.

Keeping up in an unpredictable market

Given the current market changes and taking into account the effects of the economy on the market, we need to be constantly innovative while serving the best value that money can buy. Yes the market can be seen as unpredictable but our 20 years of experience in the food and beverage industry has allowed us to always be a step ahead.

Comparing the new-look News Café with the old

We maintain the thread of modern sophisticated cocktail bar, restaurant and entertainment venue, with a now urban look and feel with hard metals and wood which is something the previous designs did not include.

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