Gaddafi out, BurgerFuel moves in

Political instability, tribal clashes and unruly militiamen - such issues aren't deterring BurgerFuel from setting up shop in Libya.

The NZX-listed fast food operator has signed a licensing agreement with a Libyan partner and will soon enter the troubled North African nation that deposed its former dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, only seven months ago after some of the bloodiest battles of the so-called Arab Spring.

Chief executive Josef Roberts said the first BurgerFuel store should open in the capital city, Tripoli, within the next 12 months.

Additional Libyan stores were planned, he said, with the possibility of some outside Tripoli.

"We don't disclose the amount of stores [allowed by] the agreement but it's all based on population and demand," Roberts said. "We want to be wherever we can sell burgers."

BurgerFuel's chief executive of international markets, Chris Mason, said Libya was a sought-after market and the company wanted to "take first mover advantage" in it.

But despite Gaddafi's downfall, Libya is still a long way from becoming a stable democracy.

The ruling National Transitional Council, which took over after the downfall of the dictator's regime, has struggled to impose its authority over tribally aligned militias involved in last year's uprising and inter-tribal violence has flared up in many parts of the country.

In one example of the continuing disorder, Reuters reported that militiamen stormed a five-star Tripoli hotel on Monday and fired shots before detaining the manager after a dispute over an unpaid bill.

However, Roberts said the company was not overly concerned about the political situation in Libya.

"We rely on our local partners and while there is always tension in these countries and a certain amount of instability goes on, people eat and they drink. The population is looking to enjoy Western concepts," he said. BurgerFuel said its local partner, the Sadeen General Trading Co, was a well-known Libyan company and had a number of international brands in the country including Lavazza coffee. The move into Libya comes as the Auckland-based firm rapidly expands its presence in the Middle East and North Africa. BurgerFuel, which exports New Zealand beef to its stores in the region, already has restaurants in Dubai, Dammam in Saudi Arabia and northern Iraq.

Roberts said BurgerFuel would soon open stores in Egypt, Qatar and Riyadh, the Saudi capital, as well as additional restaurants in Dubai.

"People [in the Middle East] first and foremost like our burgers, the second thing is they like the brand and they like our positioning - we are non-American ... we promote that."

Roberts said BurgerFuel's menu in the Middle East was much the same as that offered in its New Zealand stores.

BurgerFuel, whose shares closed up 5c at 85c last night, posted a net profit of $225,000 from an operating revenue of $4.9 million for the six months to September 30, 2011, turning around a loss of $219,000 a year earlier.

(Source: NZ Herald)

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