What are the latest ideas in food franchising? What are the issues and what are the challenges? Simon Lord asks some local experts for their thoughts on what’s coming next
Sushi donuts, flying pizzas and fermented teas. Craft beers, smokehouses and vegetarian hot dogs. Food trucks on MasterChef and Stone Age scones. Anyone looking at buying a food business right now might be understandably confused and wonder, ‘What’s coming next?’
Food has always been one of the most popular options for anyone looking to buy a business. After all, everyone has to eat and, as our population expands and more people eat out more often, it’s an ever-growing market. But it’s also a constantly changing one with food fashions, dietary trends, new competitors and even new delivery systems arising all the time to challenge the established leaders. Today, disruption is the name of the game, as in so many other sectors.
That’s why, when you’re looking to get started in a food business of your own, it pays to be aware of the changes, opportunities and challenges that you’ll face.
‘These days, everyone is so connected globally that it’s easy to see what the food trends are in any part of the world,’ says Conor Kerlin of Mariposa Restaurant Holdings, owners of the Mexicali Fresh and Burger Wisconsin franchises. ‘Sometimes New Zealand is first with the trends, sometimes we’re behind, and sometimes a trend proves to be so short-term or for such a small niche market that it never comes here at all. The trick for any food operator is to test and work out what will work here.’
Internationally, one of the current trends is for what has been termed ‘hybrid food’ – the mixing and matching of different cuisines on the same plate and even in the same item. Talking to QSR magazine, US restaurant consultant Michael Whiteman said, ‘Look for an explosion of hybrid menu items in 2017, including these unusual mash-ups: bilgogi hamburgers, pastrami-stuffed bao, Mexican ramen, congee with Polish sausage, sushi burritos and hummus in every flavour but pork belly.’
That might sound a bit far-fetched, outside Auckland’s Ponsonby Road at least, but Conor isn’t so sure. ‘I’ve seen sushi doughnuts here already,’ he grins. ‘It’s probably more of an Auckland thing right now, but every restaurant needs something to help it stand out – different ingredients or special menu items as a limited-time offer, no matter what part of the market it serves. A kimchi burger, for instance, will make people curious, get you talked about on social media and encourage people into the store to try it. They might go back to their normal burger afterwards but they’ve been excited.’
As Conor says, though, beef and chicken are still the big players in the burger market and, no matter how much people go on about trends, that’s where most of our money is still spent.
‘It’s important to remember that Ponsonby Road doesn’t represent mass-market New Zealand,’ points out Nathan Bonney, one of New Zealand’s most experienced food franchisors. Nathan is chief operating officer of Cobb & Co. and has previously worked with Columbus Coffee, Mexicali Fresh and Burger Wisconsin.
‘For many food businesses, it’s a question of finding new twists on old favourites, expanding the menu to suit certain customer groups and constantly improving ingredients, service and marketing to meet the market. That’s what you’ve seen McDonald’s and many others do over recent years, and it’s what they need to go on doing. That’s where being part of a franchise...
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