Eating green might not be new, but the franchising potential associated with a better-for-you diet has tantalizing benefits.
Words by Kieran McLoone, deputy editor for Global Franchise
Veganism and a pandemic might not always go hand-in-hand, but the psychological effects of COVID-19 have undoubtedly caused consumers to be more conscious of what they’re putting in their bodies, and how they can use what they eat to maintain physical wellness to fight off infection.
In fact, 59 per cent of consumers have become more conscious of their overall health as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to research from market insights firm FMCG Gurus, and 73 per cent plan to eat and drink healthier because of this.
The focus on wellbeing extends beyond our own bodies, too, with just over half of consumers now being more conscious about the environment around them and, as a result, 35 per cent are paying closer attention to sustainability claims.
Prioritizing these concerns in brand strategy has worked out nicely for some of the industry’s greener F&B franchises, such as smoothie concept Jamba, which recently announced the signing of a 50-unit development deal throughout Japan; a country not yet penetrated by the organization.
“We’re constantly evaluating our own efforts in the sustainability space. There’s work that we’re doing on the ingredients side and we source locally for a lot of the fruits and vegetables that go into our juices and bowls,” says Geoff Henry, president of Jamba. “We’re looking very closely at all of our packaging to make sure it’s as sustainable as possible, and also do things like reusable tumblers, where if you purchase a Jamba tumbler, you can use it several times at our stores across the U.S. and receive a discount.
We make sure to do anything that helps with our overall footprint.”
Friends not food
Eating less or no meat at all is a trend that has garnered considerable traction this past decade, with the meat substitutes market growing by over $350m in the U.S. between 2015 and 2018. Far from just a U.S. topic, consumers in the Asia Pacific region are also more conscious of their eating habits, with 40 per cent of young people aged 18 to 30 opting for a diet consistent with clean eating; foods that are raw, unprocessed, and low in fat and additives.
And while animal welfare is often the most frequently cited reason for the shift to a vegetarian or vegan diet, in some countries like the U.K., the perception that eating less meat is just generally healthy for you is reported as a key motivator for dietary change.
“The psychological effects of COVID-19 have undoubtedly caused consumers to be more conscious of what they’re putting in their bodies”
It’s these considerations that have led franchises like Milan-based vegan burger brand Flower Burger to take their concept into new exciting markets, with the meat-free operator announcing earlier this year that it had signed a master franchise agreement to bring more than 40 locations to the U.K. over the next 10 years.
“The vegan market is growing fast and for this reason, it started to attract the attention of the franchising industry,” says Matteo Toto, founder of Flower Burger. “This increase is in line with the demand of customers for more plant-based choices, mainly due to health reasons and to tackle the high consumption of meat. I think a lot of new brands will enter the market, but in the long term the ones successful will be the concepts with a strong brand identity and high quality of food served.”
Despite its ambitions for international growth, however, Flower Burger doesn’t see more meat-focused chains like McDonald’s or Burger King as direct competition. Instead, it’s targeting a niche crowd to expand in a more methodical, focused way.
“We have an ambitious and strong opening plan with the mission to bring a year-long summer atmosphere in all our new locations around the world with passion and love,” says Toto. “We do it by addressing our message to a very heterogeneous audience because we offer a product that is suitable for everyone and not just customers belonging to the vegan and vegetarian segments. To achieve this goal, we need to focus on daily activities, study each market we are entering, and build the right strategy to conquer the trust of the local customers.”
The argument can certainly be made that traditional F&B offerings will always trump wellbeing and vegan concepts because the food of the former is often cheaper. A Big Mac meal in the U.S., for example, costs $5.99, whereas the eponymous flower burger at the vegan franchise is priced at €8.50 – the equivalent of around $10. However, according to a Nielsen Global Health and Wellness Survey, 88 per cent of consumers are willing to pay more for healthier food.
Convenience always wins
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how healthy or sustainable a brand claims to be if it falls down at the most important hurdle: serving customers when and where they want to eat. A focus on convenience and availability has driven the exponential growth of Southern-style chicken salad franchise Chicken Salad Chick, which was founded in 2008 and has now grown to more than 170 locations in 17 states.
“The vegan market is growing fast and for this reason, it started to attract the attention of the franchising industry”
In September of this year alone, Chicken Salad Chick announced new developments in Louisiana, Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Oklahoma, where a previous multi- unit McDonald’s operator now owns several Chicken Salad Chick locations. While the brand’s healthy menu has certainly helped to attract investment, it seems that its nailing of the basics has been invaluable.
“I think every guest wants great tasting food, made fresh in each restaurant, and served with a genuine smile. Our guests tell us those are the important things, along with speed of service, and I believe that same philosophy holds for the entire country,” says Scott Deviney, president and CEO. “Our vision is to be America’s favorite place for chicken salad, and we can achieve that by taking care of each guest and being a part of each community in which we operate.”
For Scott, the market’s shift toward healthier eating isn’t going to be a sudden switch, but it’s still a promising sign for brands that try to do things a little greener: “As a society, we are on-the-go, so convenient options are needed. The shift will happen, in my opinion, with the ability to make high-quality food, quickly, and relatively inexpensive.”