Zen Corporation Plc, the operator of AKA yakiniku restaurants, has expanded into Thailand's 23-billion-baht shabu suki market with the aim of boosting its overall AKA sales to 1 billion baht next year.
Pree Suvimolthirabutr, head of the restaurant business unit at Zen Corporation Group, said the market value of Thailand's shabu suki sector is immense compared to that of yakiniku, which is valued at only 9 billion baht.
Yakiniku is a Japanese term that, in its broadest sense, refers to grilled meat cuisine. "Yakiniku" originally referred to Western "barbecue" food.
"Though the two food segments see relatively high competition, popularity among consumers remains strong, as reflected by continuous average growth demand of 8% per year," said Mr Pree.
The company is scheduled to open its first AKA shabu restaurant at Central Pinklao today, with plans to open a second branch in November.
"We had a test run on shabu menus before Covid-19, and found our shabu menus are competitive in the market due to our efficient management, strong research and development, marketing team, and cost-effective purchasing process," said Mayuree Chitrakorn, chief marketing officer at Zen Corporation.
"We believe that AKA restaurants can expand to 70 provinces over the next 3-4 years, from only Bangkok and suburban areas now."
With the overall sentiment of the food market improving, Mr Pree said the firm is poised to resume active expansion of AKA with the opening of 15 original AKA restaurant formats this year, a greater expansion than before the pandemic, when it opened only seven new restaurants per year.
As of August this year, Zen has opened seven new original AKA restaurant branches. By the end of 2022, the group aims to raise the total number of original AKA restaurant branches to 40.
The company also plans to open eight more branches of AKA yakiniku in the remaining five months of this year.
Expanding all new branches, including two AKA shabu restaurants, requires an investment of 130 million baht.
Boonyong Tansakul, the company's chief executive, earlier said that the firm was also scheduled to open 10 new AKA restaurants next year, bringing the total number to 50 branches in 2023. AKA sales are expected to increase from 700 million baht in 2021, to reach 900 million baht and one billion baht in 2022 and 2023, respectively.
Zen Corp expects overall group sales to top 3 billion baht this year, up from 2.25 billion baht in 2021.