As recent surveys from Restaurants Canada have demonstrated, consumer demand has shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Restaurants Canada, on a year-over-year basis, supper traffic at full-service restaurants fell by 51% in April 2020. Breakfast and lunch traffic declined by an even higher amount, plummeting more than 80%. As customers stayed home from work and school, spending time indoors, supper accounted for 68% of all traffic to full-service restaurants in April 2020, and in contrast, lunch traffic fell from 30% of total traffic in 2019 to 13% in April 2020.
Veronica Castillo, VP of Marketing at Freshii elaborates on how and why the development of PLATES took place: “As a market leader in the lunch daypart for over 15 years, the launch of a dinner-focused menu was important to continuing to drive our business during this time. As customers continue to work from home, we have been focused on innovation and developing a menu that aligns with the changing consumer needs associated with this shift. We’ve seen an increase in dinner sales over the last few months and we strongly believe that there is an opportunity to tap into dinner in a big way, which is why we decided to launch PLATES.”
PLATES offer a healthy, convenient, and affordable solution for dinner with “chef-designed entrees that align seamlessly with our core menu, using the Freshii ingredients and experience our customers are familiar with”.
Each of the five PLATES are composed with one protein, one base, and two sides, using the ingredients and flavours customers know and love. Freshii is also offering a family-style promo that serves four. Diners can select two proteins, one grain, three sides, one salad, four sauces, and four canned drinks.
PLATES is currently being tested at select locations in the greater Vancouver area, with the intention to roll out to other markets in the future. Each PLATE is sold for $13.99 and early results of the test taking place in the greater Vancouver area have been very encouraging.
Coming out of quarantine, the Freshii team has seen an increase in demand for healthy food, though convenience is still top of mind. Consumers are looking to stay healthy and eat food that they know is supporting their overall health & wellness. “It is essential that we continue to deliver on our mission to make healthy food convenient and affordable,” says Castillo. A big reason why the PLATES implementation makes sense.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Freshii was a lunchtime favourite for many city-dwellers and office workers. As restaurants across Canada shut their doors as mandated by government officials, Freshii followed suit to concentrate on delivery and takeout.
“Digital sales are becoming increasingly important and the pandemic has demonstrated just how essential this channel is,” Castillo says. “We saw a significant increase in our delivery business at the beginning of quarantine, and now it has stabilized. Our goal is to retain our delivery sales while at the same time recovering our in-store sales. Both are big priorities for us.”
“In March, we implemented heightened restaurant cleanliness and distancing standards to ensure the safety of our guests and employees,” says Castillo. “While the lunchtime daypart remains a focus for our business we have pivoted quickly to tap into current industry trends such as accelerating digital sales and rising interest in meal deals/combos.”
“From a sales perspective, we launched a number of relevant short term initiatives in the early days of the pandemic, including produce-based grocery bundles,” Castillo highlights. “And a Feed the Frontlines initiative that saw the donation of thousands of meals to essential services workers across the communities in which we operate.”
Castillo points out that the Freshii grocery bundles were very successful, particularly at the beginning of the quarantine period when certain products were harder to come by and customers suffered through long lines.
In launching this initiative, the Freshii team tapped over 30 many influencers across North America to connect with their networks. “It was a great initiative to maintain brand presence in the market while driving check and leveraging our best top-quality supply chain produce,” explains Castillo.
Since it was founded in 2005, Freshii has grown to 470 stores located across 16 countries and in more than 35 states and provinces in North America (as of December 29, 2019). As restrictions are easing throughout all provinces and now Freshii “has over 80% of our North American locations open and operating, and we have seen momentum each week.”
As Canada moves onto Stage 3 reopening in almost every city, Freshii recognizes that with this change will bring about an increase in focus on health and safety. “The well-being of our guests and team members is our top priority and we have created best in class health and safety protocols that include enhanced food safety and produce washing practices, social distancing in stores, daily wellness checks for team members, increased frequency of sanitizing and handwashing, contactless delivery and pick up, all orders sealed for delivery, and team members are wearing gloves and masks. Whether it is dine-in, take out, or delivery sales, our restaurants all follow our best in class health and safety operations guide.”
Change is coming at the foodservice industry fast, as all can attest to. As consumer taste and demand is shifting, a keen eye on trends, and understanding of the market is needed in addition to adaptability and quick-responsiveness. Freshii’s entry into the dinner market represents much of the innovation that the industry needs at this time.