A healthy living

20/02/2014 - 13:52
London’s gourmet salad bar chain Chop’d prides itself on being completely transparent when it comes to its food. Managing director Eddie Holmes talks Maria Bracken through the business plan as well as how local sourcing is fundamental to the company

Tell me about your background

After leaving university I started working at Lloyds bank as a manager. After five, maybe six years, I decided it wasn’t what I wanted to do and realised I wanted to become a chef. The safest best for me would’ve been sat back in the bank earning nice money, doing less hours, but I don’t regret leaving for a second.

So 18 years ago, just before my 30th Birthday, I packed it in and went to work for a restaurant in Bath called the Hole in the Wall. I worked here for a year, and it was here where I learnt my trade.

So I went from working in a bank where I was doing 35 hours a week bored out of my head to doing 95 hours a week constantly on my feet, and loving every single second of it.

I then went travelling for a few years and worked in Australia and Indonesia. I helped set up a couple of restaurants in Australia and went on to learn everything I know about sushi in Indonesia.

To cut a long story short, when I came back to Britain I ended up working for YO! Sushi for four years as head chef. CEO Robin Rowland put me in touch with Jasper Wright, the brains behind Chop’d. After lots of discussions, we opened our first site in Leadenhall Market, London just over nine years ago and, as they say, the rest is history.

Have you enjoyed it?

It has been an incredible journey. It has been enormously challenging at times but has also been incredibly rewarding.

What does your day to day role involve?

Every day is completely different, that’s what is so great about it. But as the company expands, my role is to continue doing what we are doing, but better.

How does your business model differ to what’s already out there?

Our business is different to any others in that we have a very strong food to go range. We make everything in store fresh every morning. We believe we have the leading grab and go range out there. When you go to competitors and see their range, which in most cases is an after-thought, ours is very much part of the whole concept. We believe we are the only one that has a successful ready to go salad range which is fresh, and with no sell by date.

What is the company’s ethos?

The ethos of the company is to offer good quality, local, natural food. We genuinely care about where our food comes from. It’s all about being honest and true to our customers.

To give you an example, our chicken comes from a single farm from Essex, our tofu comes from Brick Lane, our lettuce comes from Kent, cucumbers come from a farm in Lincoln, our tuna is line caught from the Indian Ocean and our salmon comes from the Shetland Islands.

What is your business strategy?

As a business model we have three distinct groups; ready to go, which is our seven stores located in the city; transport, which is our recently opened site at St Pancras railway station and sit in, which is a new concept at Selfridges' newly re-developed Selfridges Kitchen, which offers a full sit down restaurant and offers a more premium dining experience.

This model gives us three different avenues to explore as a business, making it far more flexible. Rather than being tied into the big rents, rates and service charges of a high street shop, you’ve got the other two business models which work really well. For us as a company, we are now in a position that we have these three models that we want to start exploring and moving forward.

How is business going?

Over the last few years we have seen like for like sales grow within our existing portfolio quite strongly.  When we launched the brand over nine years ago, you could’ve counted just half a dozen places in London that were pure, healthy concepts, now there are two, maybe three hundred. It shows there is great demand out there.

All of your nine sites are located in London at the minute. Any plans to expand outside of the city?

Definitely. We are exploring this avenue at the moment.

You have nine sites in total. What is your long term goal?

We would like to be double that within the next two to three years. The company is poised for that type of growth. We have been doing this for nine years, we know what we are doing. It is definitely time to start expanding. It is very exciting.

And how will you maintain standards as you continue to grow?

As we have worked with our suppliers for almost 10 years now, they now know what we need and expect. We have a very honest relationship with all of our suppliers. You are only as good as your suppliers. We pay more for our products, but get a much better product for it.

Identify one challenge and opportunity for Chop’d in 2014?

The challenge is finding the right property. That is fundamental. By having the three different strings to our bow, we now have three different property avenues, and we are addressing that.

The opportunity is phenomenal. There is huge demand for what we offer. Not only are our like for like sales going up but our other two new business models are growing really well too. Again, it shows there is great demand for what we want to do.

Chop’d teamed up with Orogo last year to beat lunchtime queues. Has it helped?

Orogo is a phone based app ordering system. Customers can select from the full menu, including create your own salads, stews, soups, flatbreads and wraps, send the order to their local store and pay for it via the app. The customer is told when their lunch will be ready, which could be a matter of minutes, and can then collect from the dedicated pick-up area. It is as simple as that. This launched in October last year in Canary Wharf. It has proved incredibly successful. This week 10% of our orders have come through that app. It is a very accurate system and is very easy to use. We have just rolled it out in all of our locations and it is going down very well.

How do you market this?

We market this online and on every single salad there is an Orogo sticker. We also market it through our email database, social media platforms and through Orogo themselves.

What is your number one seller?

It has to be the Jerk Chicken salad which consists of mixed leaf, real roast chicken in a fresh jerk spice rub, roast red peppers, roast sweet potato, chilli & coriander. The beauty of our menu is that our customers can come into our shop and have whatever they want. If they want a 100 calorie salad that is their five a day and is totally fat free or vegan, they can. Or they can also come in and have a pasta salad with ham cheese and mayonnaise. In total, we sell over 20,000 salads per week as well as thousands of stews, soups and wraps.

How do your prices compare to what’s out there?

I think our prices are incredibly competitive for what we offer. Our salads start at £3.50 which is pretty much what people would pay for a coffee.

Do you offer meal deals?

We do offer one breakfast meal deal where you can have a coffee and porridge for £3.50. But for us as a brand we are advocating high quality taste. We are not a discount brand, we are not a pound shop.

What has been the biggest growth sector in fast casual dining in the last couple of years?

Burgers. On the face of it burgers aren’t healthy. But what has been fascinating is the change in the quality of food in Britain in the last 10 years. The quality of burgers, in particular, has improved massively. But my motto is, if you are going have a burger, have a good one. Whether it is healthy or not, that is an endless debate, but the question is, is it a good one? Gone are the days when you used to order a burger from a pub and you would be served this frozen tasteless burger. Food served in all of our outlets is of a much higher standard now. Operators have really upped their game. Whether it be healthy or not, I don’t care. You’re not going to have a burger every day, but when you do, make sure it is a good one.

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