Vegan QSR talks about international expansion and long-term business vision
“Humans are inherently selfish” according to entrepreneur Zack Bishti. “Although we have the best intentions, sometimes out of convenience, or because we don’t like to compromise, our spending habits say otherwise.”
Indeed, sustainability has been at the top of the consumer agenda for a few years. Or at least we are led to believe so. Consumers themselves say they want environmentally friendly food and drink products, but according to a recent Euromonitor International survey, around half of all consumers are still hesitant to pay more for sustainable food products.
Bishti, co-founder of London-headquartered quick-service restaurant (QSR) Neat Burger, realized this “very early on”. So when the challenger brand was launched in 2019, its mission was to make its vegan products “accessible to everyone”.
“We wanted to make it easy, accessible and offer a plant-based QSR for the mass market,” Bishti told delegates at Forward Fooding’s agri-tech event in London last week. “We wanted ‘Trojan horse’ durability.”
How does he achieve this? Through taste, customer acquisition and a long-term business strategy, explained the co-founding CEO.
“If it doesn’t taste good, nobody cares about its durability”
Neat Burger recognizes that “taste is king”. In order for the company to appeal to “diehard meat eaters”, its main focus is on taste, flavor and reproduction of the “nostalgia” felt when eating at a fast food restaurant.
“We knew that if the product didn’t taste good, no one would. [care]”, recalls Bishti. “No matter how long [the product is]you really have to focus on flavor and taste. And “nostalgia,” he continued, is “the most important first step in convincing people.”
The Neat Burger patty is made with pea, corn, rice, quinoa, chickpea, potato, canola and sunflower oils, and flavored with onion, garlic and salt . The texture is obtained thanks to water, methylcellulose, carrageenan, konjac gum and lecithin, while the colors are brought with beet, carrot, lemon, berries and turmeric.
Neat Burger was also experience driven. What does start-up mean by that? Well, the co-founder noticed that the experience of a branded plant-based burger could be “awesome” in one place, but “awful” in another.
“For us, having the restaurant as the vanguard position for consumers to try our product gives us the opportunity to control the experience. We wanted to make sure they had the same experience every time they went.
Since its launch in 2019, the presence of the Neat Burger restaurant has grown. The start-up has opened eight restaurants in London and one in New York. Rapid expansion was made possible through investment. Major investors include Lewis Hamilton (who co-founded the company), Christian Edler and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Short and long term goals
Neat Burger has restaurants in London at Camden, Finsbury, Oxford Circus, Soho, Westfield Stratford, Canary Wharf, Victoria and Liverpool St. The QSR recently opened its first restaurant in Manhattan, New York.
“We are well on our way to becoming the largest territory-based plant-based QSR brand,” Bishti said at the agribusiness technology event. “Right now in the UK we have eight sites and are opening in Dubai next month.”
For Neat Burger, New York is the primary focus, being the territory the start-up is “most excited about.” Another country on its radar is Italy, where Neat Burger plans to launch soon.
Expanding its restaurant network helps accelerate Neat Burger’s customer acquisition, the co-founder explained. And that’s how Neat Burger differs from its competitors, we were told.
The meatless sector is not short of new entrants. But according to Neat Burger, its competitors approach the meatless analog production from a scientific point of view before “finding the consumer”. Ultimately, he continued, these food tech companies “all end up fighting for the same section in the supermarket.”
Neat Burger comes into the meatless category from another angle. By the time Neat Burger hits retail, the company is already hoping to have an established customer base.
“For us, restaurants were really a [means of] customer acquisition, where they could come and try the product in its best light, feel the brand and love it. For us, this is part of the bigger picture of building a community. If we can build this long-term community, I think we will be successful.
Retail is Neat Burger’s “long game,” the co-founder revealed: “A bit like Pizza Express, Nandos and Leon. I think it’s a great opportunity, we want to put the restaurants in the right place first.