Let’s go Paleo!
Whilst home-delivered “healthy weight-loss” ready meal programs such as Jenny Craig and Lite n’ Easy have been highly successful and available for many years, the vast majority of casual dining and food-to-go retailers throughout Australia traditionally focus their menu development and operations around well known convenient mass market product categories such as cakes, breads, pastas, pizzas, burgers and soft drinks.
This strategy is born out of the mindset of providing a menu which will not only be appealing to as many potential customers as possible throughout each day-part (breakfast, lunch and dinner), but also as a means of mitigating commercial risk through alienating or losing potential customers by offering menu items which are “perceived” to be complicated, unusual or (dare I say) different! Put simply, it’s the usual “safe play” when opening and operating a café or QSR, which, given the inherent commercial risks and expectation on return on investment, is completely understandable.
In order for some food retailers to differentiate themselves from the highly competitive and over crowded mass-market, they have targeted the ever-emerging trend of the “health conscious consumer”. This burgeoning category of the conscientious customer has, for some time, been the official sleeping giant of the Australian food-to-go landscape. In order to connect with this trend, large corporates such as Subway and McDonald’s heavily promote “healthy menu options” via their respective “eat fresh” and “deli choices” strategies. Furthermore, highly successful Australian-born franchise chains such as Sumo Salad and Boost Juice have been cleverly founded on this wellbeing principle.
So what if a new start-up food retailer dared to not only defy the safe play strategy of trying to be “all things to all people”, but was to boldly go deeper than his predecessors in identifying and connecting with a particular niche within the psyche of the health conscious consumer? And what then, having identified a particular daily dietary mantra within that niche, if that retailer was to then develop a new quick-service food retail business around that way of life? Now, that would be visionary, pioneering, and down-right gutsy …
Meet Josh Sparks. As Founder of THR1VE, Josh is the entrepreneurial spirit behind a new emerging benchmark in health conscious food-to-go retailing in Australia.
What is the THR1VE philosophy?
THR1VE’s mission is to provide our customers with the daily nutrition they need to thrive. Our menu is high protein and low carb, always gluten free, and 100% free of added sugar, ensuring our customers look, feel and perform at their best.
It also just happens to be delicious, served within minutes and priced to compete with the major fast casual brands!
What was your inspiration in creating THR1VE?
I have had a lifelong passion for health and wellness. In fact, “passion” may be an understatement.
Throughout my 15 year career in the fashion industry, both here and in the US, I personally utilised nutritionists and trainers to tweak my diet and exercise, always looking for an edge – the ideal combination of factors to support my desire to live life to the full.
Several years ago, and almost accidentally, I started eating what I would now describe as a primarily Paleo or Primal style diet: lots of meat and seafood, fresh veggies and fruits. I noticed the positive changes very quickly, and once I started researching further, I came across Loren Cordain and Robb Wolf’s books, and it was Robb’s The Paleo Solution that made a true convert out of me. I incorporated the newfound knowledge into further refining my own diet, dropping dairy, legumes, and processed sugar altogether and experienced yet further positive results.
As evangelical as it may sound, by this time I felt absolutely compelled to share the benefits of living this way with as many people as possible. I genuinely believe that the Paleo or Primal lifestyle is the key to both transforming individual health and wellness, but also our national budgets and tax burden, currently blown out by the growing costs of lifestyle disease. So I created THR1VE.
Why did you choose to focus on a very select customer within the health and wellbeing niche?
To me, it is counter intuitive to think of our customer as “specific”, or indeed, the health and wellness space as “niche”. With 14 million Australians overweight, over 5 million obese, and obesity overtaking smoking as the number one cause of premature death and illness, not to mention the even more disturbing trends on Type 2 diabetes, you are talking about the majority of Australians suffering needlessly through well intentioned but ultimately ignorant dietary choices.
The challenge is, and will remain for some time, education.
What we consistently find is that as soon as customers take a little time to educate themselves, and the basics are very easy to understand and implement, they make their own decisions. We don’t have to “sell” them. Once you have that light bulb moment of just how much better you can look, feel and perform, and how easy it is to sustain for a lifetime, you don’t look back. Check out our website for links to the best blogs and books.
How has the market responded to your vision?
We have been very fortunate in both Sydney and Melbourne to enjoy strong early adopter support and excellent word of mouth from those early adopters to their friends and colleagues. THR1VE hasn’t advertised at all and beyond our social media, we don’t intend to. We prefer to educate, by exposing customers to the research that underpins everything we do and encouraging them to build their own knowledge, taking control of their destiny by doing so. So far, the response has been fantastic.
Which menu items have been the biggest success?
Our breakfast and lunch bowls are the heart and soul of our menu. Prepared fresh to order, and all designed to be high protein and low carb, always gluten free, and 100% free of any added sugar, they are also highly customisable. In addition to ensuring you never get bored, it also allows customers to tweak the macro nutrients to best support their specific diet and exercise goals. For just one example, the Lemon and Herb Grilled Chicken bowl can be served on a base of fresh salad greens, brown rice, or sweet potato and cauliflower mash, so you can choose low carb or smart carb, and you can choose to add a side of chilli and almond broccoli or avocado, to increase the veggie count or add some good fats.
How important is freshness and seasonality of ingredients and menu for you?
Critically important. Freshness should go without saying, and it certainly does at THR1VE. We avoid processed foods, preservatives and added chemicals of all kinds. In terms of seasonality, we overhaul the menu twice a year for spring/summer and autumn/winter, to ensure we showcase the best in seasonal dishes, sides and condiments. Additionally, we are regularly tweaking the menu for more minor changes, to reflect the availability of new ingredients and the ongoing innovation of our kitchen.
How important is customer feedback to you and the business, and what do you do with this feedback once you get it?
Customer feedback has already led to significant improvements in our business, from front of house processes, to the operation of the kitchen, to the introduction of new menu items. In the era of social media, customer feedback is both immediate and public, allowing our customers a critical forum to express themselves whether positive or negative, and a fantastic opportunity for us to address it just as openly and transparently.
I am always delighted to receive constructive criticism, as it means the customer cares enough to share with us, and it provides insights we may have missed internally. On the other hand, I can’t promise to implement every idea we are provided with! Our job is to listen closely to what our customers are saying, consider carefully whether or not it is right for us to incorporate, and in either case, communicate, communicate, communicate.
What are your top tips for creating a menu for such a niche market?
Setting aside the fact I don’t think it is niche, my recommendation is very simple – stand for something.
Whether you agree or disagree with what we are doing is your decision, but I am absolutely confident that if you eat with us, read the educational material at the front counter, and check out the website and social media channels, you will be in no doubt whosoever what it is we stand for.
I passionately believe that customers want more than a transactional relationship with the brands they entrust their valuable time and money with. Assuming for a second that is true, then it is paramount that the brand steps up, not just promising more in a marketing sense, but truly delivering on it.
When a business is genuinely committed to making a dent in the universe, to borrow from the late great Steve Jobs, the force of that desire is contagious.
What do the next 12 months look like for THR1VE?
Touch wood, we will be very busy! Next year we have Melbourne CBD opening in March, and Brisbane CBD in May, and in the meantime I am actively looking for at least one or two additional sites for later in 2014. Strategically and tactically, people are my top priority and we are actively recruiting ahead of the curve, with future store growth in mind. I am excited about continuing to deepen the connection and broaden the conversation with our customers, as we are committed to the dietary education process that will hopefully continue to transform lives. We also have a couple of other slightly left of field ideas in the works, but I better not jinx anything by discussing them just yet – stay tuned!
As we can see from Josh’s comments above, the “niche” health and lifestyle market is in full bloom, with customers embracing the opportunity to purchase healthy food alternatives to the traditional lunchtime fare. With summer upon us and a whole variety of fresh fruit and vegetables in season, it’s time to shake up your menu and deliver customers delicious and nourishing food!
Written by Mel Sharpe – Australasian Sandwich Association