Globally, the fast-food industry alone generates $570bn in revenue. In 2015, the U.S. alone recorded $200bn in revenue; that doesn’t even cover the contribution of fast-casual. This mammoth industry is full of incredible variety, but is largely dominated by a few dominant tastes and products.
Burgers, chicken and pizza franchise brands are successful nearly everywhere in the world, they have a ubiquitous appeal. Operational processes for these food products have generally been standardized across many brands, and present a relatively easy set of operations to attach a winning brand to.
However, consumers’ tastes and priorities can change over time, and recent shifts suggest they are looking for healthier options.
Social media is replete with images of beautifully prepared meals. This has led to some consumers seeking out the most aesthetically pleasing dishes to photograph for social media. This has contributed to the rise of many small eateries, as well as some franchise brands.
What ‘alternative’ concepts are out there?
The F&B industry is endlessly creative. While burgers, chicken, and pizzas dominate the industry, there is still a huge amount of variety. From dessert in a jar to the growing healthy bowl trend, consumers have more choices than ever.
JARS Sweets & Things is a new franchise brand created by celebrity chef, Fabio Viviani. The name doesn’t give it away entirely, but JARS dishes up dessert classics, as well as some of Viviani’s specials, in single-serving jars.
“We’ve already signed two multi-unit franchise deals in Texas and California ahead of our flagship location’s grand opening,” said Fabio Viviani, founder of JARS Sweets & Things.
“This growth momentum is largely attributed to JARS’ easily scale-able kitchen operations model that is both hoodless/ventless and requires little to no restaurant experience to operate.”
SoBol brands itself as a café, and has an extensive and exclusively healthy menu. The brand’s primary menu item is its bowl, which can be filled with a number of fruits, vegetables and other healthy and unprocessed ingredients.
“We’re still on the emerging side of things when it comes to the F&B industry as a whole but consider ourselves leaders in the smoothie and bowls sector with a long runway and a lot of momentum,” said Jason Mazzarone, CEO of SoBol.
Is there a degree of saturation in the F&B industry?
Close coverage of franchise brands in the F&B industry can lead some to conclude that there is a saturation of the classic F&B brands, and maybe in the entire industry overall. More units and more brands can continue to pop up, but that isn’t mirrored by a rise in eating out, or ordering take-out.
A quick perusal of the Global Franchise news section shows that most franchise agreements signs in the F&B industry are still for burger, chicken and pizza brands.
“When I got into the burger and fried chicken sectors a handful of years ago, I realized the vast amount of competition that existed within these spaces,” said Viviani.
“Today’s consumer can find a burger or fried chicken concept on every street corner.”
Whether the industry is saturated with these concepts or not is difficult to conclusively answer since new brands are constantly emerging in those sectors; but investors would be wise to find forward-thinking brands that are swimming with the current.
What is the future like for alternative brands?
Health consciousness is seen differently around the world; and pre-pandemic, some countries had more health-conscious populations than others. However, the pandemic has been something of an equalizer, with people over the world recognizing the need for healthy food.
A study from the European Institute of Innovation and Technology showed a 33 per cent increase in the consumption of fresh fruit, and 31 per cent increase in the consumption of fresh vegetables in the U.K. in 2020. Similar patterns have been noticed around the world.
“I’d say we’re one of the pioneers of ‘better for you QSR’. I’ve said for a long time that 20 per cent of the world cared about what they put in their bodies 10-15 years ago and that number has probably doubled since,” said Mazzarone.
“With more people aware of how their food is prepared and the growing number of young people making better decisions when it comes to what they put in their bodies, I see us being a major part of the ‘better for you’ movement.”
Instagrammable, or social media-friendly food pictures are not a new thing. People have taken pictures of aesthetically pleasing dishes for a long time, but the restaurant industry has reacted to that too. Many restaurants offer dishes that are specifically designed to look good on the gram.
Nowadays, many brands are combining their food excellence with top-class presentation. JARS Sweets & Things offers high-quality dessert items, but the simple innovation of a single serving jar boosts its appeal.
Where can alternative brands find the most receptive consumer base?
The nature of an alternative brand’s offering, is that it experiences less consumer awareness than the mainstream brands’ menus.
Large cities are always the ideal launching pads for any brands looking to offer something different. The inhabitants of large cities tend to have more diverse tastes as they’re exposed to more cuisines than in towns and suburbs, which lends itself to a more diverse food culture.
“I think there is so much diversity in and around major cities and people are always looking for new delicious and dependable options. It’s about connecting with those communities and giving exceptional customer experience,” said Mazzarone.
“For us, that’s been in the suburbs around larger cities with great family-centric communities. Younger people are typically more open to alternative brands and the areas around large cities attracts this demographic.”
Finding your base does not necessarily have to take place in the real world, or within specific locations. Many brands find their following on social media.
“JARS’ mainstream model is extremely relevant to every consumer living in today’s social media-driven environment, as our brand delivers an interactive experience from the initial presentation to the last bite of dessert,” said Viviani.
“We do not have to build a crowd and make people believe in our concept. There is not a single individual who will walk into the store and wonder what is on our menu.”
Expanding into cities is a strong bet for alternative brands, as consumers are more likely to have some awareness of different food brands, and be more likely to give them a try.