, UK
[L to R] Adam Mani, Creams Cafe co-founder and director of innovation and Fieldgate, CEO of Creams Cafe

What’s next for Creams Cafe?

The brand is investing in tech stacks and creating new roles to fuel its expansion plans

When Creams Cafe was founded in 2008, Adam Mani, co-founder and director of innovation intended for its foundation to be a safe space for the younger generation. A hang-out spot that was different  – and cooler  – than coffee shops.

In a quick interview with Adam and Everett Fieldgate, CEO of Creams Cafe, QSR Media discussed the brand’s roots, its 16-year history, and investments it plans to make to build towards its international expansion targets.

QSR Media: What are your most memorable milestones in the past 16 years?

Adam: The first has to be opening my first flagship store. We put so much time, effort and love into creating a concept we truly believed in. I remember my parents pulling out cash from their pockets – it became the very first float money in my till. 

Second was when two of the first staff members we employed married, a wonderful moment in itself, and then welcomed the first beautiful Creams baby boy. It was a moment of pure joy when he came to visit us in the shop in his pushchair for the first time! At that moment, I realised I had fathered a brand that was life-changing for so many people. 

Finally, I remember reading complicated books on how ice cream is manufactured and struggling to understand them. However, we ploughed on and built our very own gelato factory anyway, in the hope it would all work out… Which, after a bumpy ride it did…Proving hands-on experience trumps pure theory any day. 

Given the brand’s 16-year history, what were your biggest challenges in the early days?

Adam: The biggest challenge for us in the early days was the rise of copycats. When we first opened Creams, we were a revolutionary concept. No one else had created a space which was purely dessert-focused, and when others saw how successful we were they wanted to jump on the bandwagon. Restaurant design and product innovation were key to keeping us ahead of the curve and making the copycats look just like that – imitators! 

Over the past 16 years, what has changed in the desserts category in the UK?

Adam: Whilst people may have had a one-off Italian-run or Italian-inspired Gelateria in their neighbourhood, Creams were pioneers in bringing authentic, hand-made artisanal gelato to people across the UK on a national scale.

Education on how gelato is made and laying the foundations for broader awareness of ‘gelato is more than just ice cream’ was principally done by us, and now there is a real understanding of and demand for authentic gelato across the country. 

Another change has been the evolution of people’s palates. As people travel more, the internet brings us closer together, and we become a more diverse society, the foods and flavours we’re exposed to have changed and our tastes have become more sophisticated. In the world of desserts, this has meant everyone has had to up their game to incorporate some of those evolving trends

What are the top five lessons you learned over the years of being in the business?

Adam: 1. You have to be scalable if you want to see real success. The flip side of this is when you reach a certain size, as a founder you lose the ability to give every store the same level of love and care as the first one. The solution is to surround yourself with capable professionals and people you trust to continue to showcase the brand you’ve poured your heart and soul into, in the best possible light. 

2. I always caution people about mixing business and family. 

3. Focus on growing your business, yes, but not at the expense of your health or alienating your loved ones. Otherwise, you’ll be on a hamster wheel just for the sake of it and one day look up and realise you have nothing but your business. 

4. Think about those who invest in you. As your business grows and you bring on board investors, you need to think about how the decisions you make impact them. Often, the investments made by others can be life changing – win or lose, so you need to keep their interests in mind. 

5. Work with your team like they are your friends rather than employees and everyone will feel like a stakeholder. If you lose that connection with the people – who are the beating heart of any business – your business will stagnate. 

What's your one piece of advice for others who are still building their brand?

Adam: Apart from the oft-heard ‘business guru’ advice of working hard, being ambitious, building a great team around you, etc., I would say number one: start and ensure you continue building your brand with good personal qualities. Be fair with everyone you work with and take pride in what you do. When you get traction and start to see success, don't be too proud or complacent. 

Everett: Everything must revolve around the consumer. This manifests itself in three ways

Avoid the trap of the Golden Palate – Just because I like it this way doesn’t mean everyone else will too. Size, taste, texture, appearance, and price expectations vary by age, cultural background and even gender. And at the end of the day, the opinion of the paying customer matters. 

Observation, Insight, Action - In the world of hospitality, you need to ensure you spend time with your customers in-store.  Take your ego off the table, speak to people, understand your customers, how they interact and utilise the brand, and what they want from it. This should be the fuel to drive brand development. You also need to look at how your team interacts with the brand – talk to your team and your managers. Take note of the things you see happening time and time again and use that as the building blocks of your insight, which then drives action – and I mean real action.

A good example of this is when we noticed in our stores the booth seating always fills up first. The insight from this was that people come to Creams to celebrate and spend time together – and therefore see the booth as a more intimate, social space. From this our action was clear – create more booth seating. In several stores, we have started to remove the high tables and build more booths and we have already seen same-store sales growth as a result.

Consumer-test everything before launching. Without testing first you will never understand if your actions meet your objectives or identify the unintended consequences of the changes you are making. Our biggest and most successful launch last year – the Winter Warmers range was based on customer feedback that they don’t enjoy cold or ice cream-based treats during the winter months. Our solution to that was to develop a range of warming and comforting treats that customers rated as their favourite concepts. We were even able to accurately predict sales performance on the back of this research!

With the cost-of-living crunch continuing to impact how consumers perceive value, how does Creams Cafe elevate its offerings for its target market?

Everett: We know how people are struggling, and across Creams have worked tirelessly to ensure we are keeping any price rises to the absolute minimum for our consumers – we want our desserts to always be affordable for all. One of the ways we have been able to do this is by having an incredible procurement team who have been able to keep the inflation of our core ingredients below the industry average. Savings which we make sure to pass on. 

Creams is all about being able to give everyone moments of pure joy and pleasure. To this point, we have an incredible range of products below the £5 price point. Our Soft Swirled sundaes, the Frappe range and the Hot Gelattes have struck a chord with our hard-pressed customers. In addition, we have also introduced value bundles across all our stores. 

Of course, this never comes at the expense of the quality of the ingredients we use. Creams has always put quality at the heart of our products – it’s one of the reasons Adam and the founders chose to serve gelato over ice cream – and we would never want this to change. 

Finally, innovation. Through innovation, we can create an exceptional and memorable experience. Imagine if we can give you, as a customer, something you have never tried before or even dreamed of, and all for under £10. That is what Creams is all about – affordable moments of happiness and unforgettable experiences. 

What do you think is the secret to the brand's success?

Everett: Three words: sweet, joy, abundance. Creams is a brand which is very simple to understand. And through those three words, we can create a broad appeal to anyone who has a sweet tooth. 

It comes back to the quality of the products we have always offered as well, alongside the generosity of the serving sizes, at a reasonable price point. 

Finally, we have never pretended to be something we’re not. Creams is welcoming to all – to Adam’s point, Creams is meant to be a safe space for all. We are the glue that brings people together. Creams is laid back and encourages people to ‘come as you are’, whether that’s for a post-school treat or after dinner when you’re craving a really indulgent dessert. We’re relaxed, and that means we welcome everyone through our doors. More importantly, when life can be a bit humdrum, we are there to bring a moment of pure delight and escapism.  

What are some investments you are currently looking into?

Everett: We are investing in the tech stack, including point of sales systems, the Creams app, as well as the Procure Wizard to help drive sales and manage cost from a store perspective, which is critical in today’s environment. 

We’re also investing in people. We want to make sure the day-to-day running of the business, and everyone who is involved in ensuring Creams remains a well-oiled machine, is supported. At the same time, we have ambitious growth plans, both in the UK and the international market. To address this, we have created several roles which are future-focused, making sure those people will not get dragged into the ‘day-to-day’ running of the business. On the other side, we have also created some roles which are focused on the ‘day-to-day’. It’s a really big investment we’re putting in place and one we hope will allow Creams to continue to grow. 

At Creams, one thing which makes us unique is the fact we have our gelato factory, based in the UK. We are the only dessert group that makes our gelato in our factory to ensure we can maintain the quality, taste and end product we are so proud of. This year, we have invested in our factory to double its production capacity, as well as secured our SALSA accreditation. In addition to this, we have built a second Creams factory to allow us to create our proprietary ingredients which are delivered and used in all of the Creams stores across the UK 

So essentially, we are focusing on investment in people, technology and products. 

What will be Creams Cafe's goal for the next five years?

Everett: One of the key things we want to ensure our customers know us for is innovation. For a few years, we stood still. We’ll put our hands up to that, but it is once again a huge priority for us and a key differentiator from our competition. We have an incredibly talented and creative innovation team who are driving forward not only what we do at Creams, but the entire dessert category and ensuring we continue to be industry leaders, bringing new experiences to dessert lovers and those with a sweet tooth. 

We also want to ensure we are delivering a better and more consistent customer experience across all of our stores as we grow, and this will likely mean looking at the décor and ambience. To do this, we are currently investing in a big piece of work to help us get a better understanding of our customers, delving into consumer needs, their understanding of our brand and business, and how they perceive us. This will likely feed into the future of Creams and how our brand evolves over the next few years. 

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