In Focus

Amid fast-changing food trends, Abokado finds confidence in its core products

The healthy food chain is rediscovering its strengths to develop its core offering.

Sometimes, the opportunity to be found in changing food trends can be attractive enough that even multi-national brands invest significant amounts of time and money to cater to fast changing consumer trends.

For healthy eating chain Abokado, there is more to food development than just following the latest trends.

“When we are going to develop dishes, they've got to be relevant to what's happening in the marketplace. You've got to think about breadth, balance, range, its supply chain, price, nutrition, allergens, there's so many facets to it,” Kara Alderin, who was recently promoted from her role as Abokado’s operations director to managing director, exclusively told QSR Media.

Not that food trends are unimportant. Part of Abokado’s new strategy is the constant monitoring of current trends in consumer preferences, not necessarily to chase them, but to identify areas that Abokado can incorporate.

“It’s knowing what's happening in the marketplace and not chasing it. It’s just making sure we do enough to keep customers excited and engaged, whilst staying true to who we are as a brand” Alderin said.

For instance, the brand’s signature chicken katsu is far and away its biggest and most successful product. The rise of plant-based diets like veganism is not going to sway them to change its recipe. However, Abokado is looking at embracing vegan-friendly items outside its core offering where they fit the brand image. Abokado, Alderin noted, wants to find a balance between offering healthy and indulgent options, giving customers a variety of options, from salmon salads to chicken katsu, and adopting relevant food trends without compromising their brand proposition.

“We're fortunate in that the whole basis of all of the Abokado offering is we don't say we are only healthy. We're all about balance, and we give people options to be healthy or to indulge,” she added.

The brand recently launched its “Better Breakfasts” campaign as another way of adapting to its market, offering items like a new ‘extra creamy’ porridge (with a vegan option), and a choice of toppings such as coconut & almond butter & banana (vegan) and superseeds & berry compote, along with Grab ‘n Go healthy wholegrain bagels.

According to data that the brand has collected from its customers, there was not much overlap between patrons from different day parts. Particularly, they found that as much as 70% of their lunch-time customers were not even aware that they offered breakfast. With CEO Mark Lilley saying that that breakfast diners now account for 30% of all visits to Abokado’s 24 stores, there is a big opportunity in addressing that gap.

Another opportunity that their research has found was in the snacking segment.

The challenge is meeting the various expectations of customers in those different segments without losing the core identity of the Abokado brand.

“Again, we have a business where we have got quite a broad range. We do great coffee, breakfast, sushi, hot pots, and salads,” Alderin said. And this, she noted, creates confusion. “We've got to be great at a number of things, but perhaps not try and be absolutely everything,” she said.

Simplicity and focus
Another aspect of how Abokado is looking to refresh its brand is through the careful and methodical fine-tuning of its operations. Over the past few months, the brand has focused on cementing its central management team to improve its brand proposition.

With key people in place, the brand can then take a look at the necessary processes in its day to day operations and streamline them to be more competitive in the market, whether it involves simplifying cooking processes to be more efficient, developing new seasonal menus, or strengthening its marketing. As the brand moves forward in 2019, Abokado plans to maintain this prudent balance between adapting to demands the market, and focusing on their brand identity.

“We research everything. Where we believe we have a more strategic need to understand what we're doing and what we're not doing? Well, we'll bring in experts to help us do that. For example, for breakfast, that's exactly what we did. We always look at the marketplace and what it's doing, where it's going,” Alderin said.

“That was fundamental. Because if we were to do a little bit more with our brand and sell ourselves a bit better, our teams really need to understand that way of thinking. Not just to make great products, but actually be greater representatives of our brand and our business,” she said.

This was a lesson Abokado learned very recently. Alderin admitted that the brand has had difficulties engaging consumers in the past due to difficulties in communicating their brand identity. Whilst food quality has always been a priority for the company, she said Abokado was not looking ‘hot and shiny’ in respect of its brand image.

“We really were far too humble and expecting customers to come to us,” she said.

With her recent appointment as MD, Alderin saw an opportunity for change. That is, she saw Abokado identifying and refocusing on its core strengths, while building on the day-to-day operations and processes so they could bring the brand to life.

“We've refreshed what our brand proposition this year, and part of our strategic piece that we need to deliver is making that come to life through within our stores, store design, marketing, tone of voice,” she said.

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