Why 'health casual' is gaining traction overseas

Jan. 9, 2013

By Dan Rowe, CEO of Fransmart

There's a certain pride in buying "all-American," yet American products in the overseas market are given a sort of patriotism all their own. For American fast-casual and QSR franchises, international markets are only too eager-to eat up the trendy novelty of American companies.

And the newest American trend to catch on overseas is what some are calling "health casual." Freshii, for example, whose celebrity fans include Ashton Kutcher, Ryan Seacrest, and Megan Fox, has found a thriving market in Dubai. CEO Matthew Corrin attributes his success to the chain's potent blend of the "execution of our franchise partners and because demand for a tasty, health-conscious concept is very high in the region."

And that's not just conjecture. With one in every eight Emiratis statistically obese, a franchise that proudly touts kale as their current feature item has gotten more than a little traction in the UAE.

Global gold
With more than 50 locations in three continents, five set to open in Dubai alone, and one thriving in Dubai's most health-conscious district, Healthcare City, Corrin is ecstatic about the international prominence that Freshii has achieved, stating that the brand's business model is "tried and true; a globally proven concept."

As real estate sells in Dubai, Freshii's future is set to maintain a powerful presence in the Middle East as the number of locations is projected to boom to at least 100 stores throughout the GCC and Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Corrin has a few pointers to keep in mind for budding franchisors. With Freshii locations opening in Sweden and Zurich, a recent master development deal signed for all of China and restaurants already open in Austria and Dubai, he stressed the importance of regional brand relevance and strong partnerships in the global marketplace.

"The largest barrier that comes with overseas markets is distance — these restaurants will be 5,000-7,000 miles away. You need the right partners in development, franchising, and real estate that you not only trust, but also align philosophically with your brand."

The American fast-casual restaurant market is a hot-ticket right now in the Middle East, where the market is enthusiastic for American brands—especially for those that thrive in the States.

A flexible menu and sales structure doesn't hurt either. With Freshii structured around a customizable, 'build-it-yourself' ethos, the time-tested business model and menu remain that way. Corrin asks, "If distributors in a particular area don't readily supply an ingredient that's regularly on our menu, is the ingredient popular? Will this sell? If not, then we've got to be flexible."

With slight changes in regard to local tastes and portion sizes, concepts that are willing to remain nimble in the face of change are those that mitigate risk most efficiently.

Elevated sales
In the wake of the MENA region's development explosion, it seems as if the market overseas has a healthy appetite for the health-conscious American cuisine. With India's food franchise marketgrowing at an astonishing 25-30 percent year after year, it seems as if starting and growing a franchise internationally is not only a smart choice, but in the true spirit of fast-casual restaurants, quick, easy and pretty appetizing.

Dan Rowe is CEO of Fransmart, whose fast-casual portfolio of brands has launched concepts in 45 states and more than 35 countries.

Read more about health and nutrition.

Topics: Franchising & Growth , Health & Nutrition , Operations Management

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