With 13 effective openings this year, the Eat Salad network remains in an offensive dynamic with around thirty new establishments planned for 2021. Antoine Barat, who co-founded the salad’bar chain with his brother Joseph, is counting well, despite an average decline activity of 17% this year, crisis obliges, to continue its deployment. And especially outside the borders where the first 2 branches are expected in Brussels at the beginning of the year then Barcelona. With 41 establishments on the clock in December, 2020 was a year of consolidation of processes, reinforcement of headquarters staff and the digitalization already underway, to bounce back even more.
How have you experienced the last 9 months and the 2 confinements?
In terms of the development and performance of the brand, it is clear that the 2 and a half months of total closure could not be compensated, which should lead us to a drop in activity of around 17% in average over the network in total, for a turnover under the brand expected around €25 million. This could appear to be a poor performance for a brand that was experiencing growth rates, per point of sale, of the order of 20% each year. But given the context, we can salute the resilience of the network with an exit from confinement in June which was favorable to a concept positioned healthy food like ours. Business has nonetheless remained more complicated for stores located in business areas with under-activity due to teleworking, but also near sports halls or cultural venues that have been very hard hit. If we have managed all the same, since the beginning of the year, to open 13 new addresses and bring the network to 41 restaurants, several projects, in particular that of Defense, have been deferred. But with 24 franchises already signed for 2021 and developers in the starting blocks, we should be able to expand next year. The figure of around thirty projects remains accessible, including in particular our first branches in Brussels and then in Barcelona where we will test the market. During the first month of the crisis, all the driving forces of the company, at headquarters, remained mobilized and we took the opportunity to restructure ourselves and refine our processes and procedures. By strengthening our workforce in all head office departments with 14 hires, our support team has grown to 34 people. Just to be well armed and in order to attack during the recovery.
Has the business model been impacted by the crisis and its setbacks?
I don’t think a model should be called into question on the pretext of this unprecedented crisis. Admittedly, customer expectations have evolved over confinements, curfews and other deconfinements, but, in my opinion, they will return to their habits and reflexes as soon as the pandemic is over. We do not erase like that years of reflexes and practices even if there will remain after-effects. We have accelerated several construction sites and projects underway, in particular the environmental aspect and in particular our packaging. The installation of stainless steel cutlery for customers who eat on site, such as the discontinuation of plastic packaging on juices, lemonade and homemade iced tea, replaced by Tetra Pack briquettes which are easy to take away and which allow to eliminate straws, constitute a great step forward. In our reflection on the evolution of the offer, the tests carried out in Clermont-Ferrand, recently opened, give us great hopes, particularly following the implementation of breakfast formulas with pastries, fresh fruit juices, hot drinks and yogurts as well as the development of our snacks. Positioned on the same prices as bakers, they will allow all establishments located in an appropriate catchment area in town centres, shopping centers or travel retail, to attract other customers at other times of consumption. of the day. The first play area also installed within this Auvergne establishment is showing great promise. Among the other avenues explored and which should soon come to fruition, we are also going to include a range of ready-made sandwiches as well as a collection of signature salads. These are planned for the first half of the year when they have been tested, adjusted and validated by the head of the network, in our 6 directly owned stores.
Changes to the brand’s digital transformation?
I must say that delivery and click & collect are not new to us. These are levers that have been natively integrated into our model since its launch in 2013. When it was created, we already had a fleet of 15 scooters, before handing over to the different generations of platforms such as Take Eat Easy then Foodora. , in their time, before going to Uber Eats and Deliveroo with which we have also renegotiated the commission scale. For remote ordering, if it is a common practice for some of our customers, this year we have automated online payment from our site. Click & Collect and delivery, in the current context, are major and essential channels for our business. As proof, from 28 to 30% before the crisis, they weigh more than 50% of sales today. The generalization of order-taking terminals, which have been tested for a little over a year, will continue across the network in the coming months, as will the new, more premium and warmer decoration which is dressing more and more establishments.
How to imagine the after? Will you be more attentive to the profile of franchisees and the areas of establishment?
Even if the moral burden is heavy following the 2e confinement, the crisis has not damaged the Eat Salad model. On the contrary, it has strengthened it in its processes and accelerated many ongoing projects. We probably have less to worry about in the months to come compared to more traditional catering which, by its way of working, of building its mode of profitability, does not have the same motivations as us. We are dealing with diametrically opposed corporate cultures. They are more on artisanal profiles while our success is based on a standardized and duplicated system with more throughput but also more agility. As proof, we only recorded an average drop of… 17%. Even with our rooms closed, a large part of the customers who ate with us on site transferred their orders to take-out. We are going to maintain our development strategy by strengthening our network, particularly in more rural towns. Whatever people say, pitches no. 1 will remain pitches no. 1, but we will have to be very vigilant in the face of landlords who have shown so little flexibility and attentiveness in recent months.
Personally, I do not believe in a reopening date for our dining rooms on January 20; I’m betting more on the month of March. This does not prevent us from remaining optimistic for the aftermath in view of the strength of our concept and the demands of franchising. Although we are well aware that bankers are going to be even more demanding when it comes to lending, we will remain mobilized to support project promoters whose contribution must henceforth be at least 30% of the investment compared to 22 or 23% previously. We will be even more demanding in terms of the overall quality of future franchisees and their financial strength to withstand hardships like the one we are going through. We consider our role as head of the network even more decisive and wish more than ever to remain in start-up mode. Which means in action. As proof, our training center made up of 11 trainers has been reinforced to be more active. I have also increased the frequency of visits with one mystery shopper per week, per store in France, one auditor in the kitchen with an uncovered face per week with an audit of 45 control points, a sample every month, and a visit network facilitator every month. That is to say in the year no less than 190 visits. These are the keys to peace of mind for everyone and the guarantee of sharing know-how to pull the network ever higher.
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