Editor's note: This is the first of 12 articles, publishing on a monthly basis, that will focus on a specific franchise. If you think your franchise should be featured, email Cherryh atCherryhc@NetWorldMediaGroup. In order to participate, you must be willing to share sales info.
Zoup! has a lot to celebrate this month besides National Soup Month. The 87-unit franchise, founded in 1998, ended 2015 with a 24.8 percent sales increase over the previous year and has 37 locations in various stages of development. The brand is focusing on expanding via franchise partners in the northern U.S., as well as Ontario and British Columbia, said CEO Eric Ersher.
"Our brand's strength is identifying those who share our passion for the brand and helping them build their own successful businesses," he said. "This is why we're focused on franchising and why we're always expanding our business office team and improving the systems, support programs and marketing initiatives that empower franchisees to achieve their personal potential and meet their professional goals."
Although Ersher said franchising is his top priority, the company operates two Detroit-area company stores, where staff tests a variety of operations.
"We have a real-world setting where we can test new menu items, introduce and refine new procedures and train new franchisees and team members," he said. "We work hard to get in front of consumer preferences with ingredients, flavors and nutritional options that provide customers with new experiences."
Some of those new experiences include the introduction of uncommon proteins, including rattlesnake rabbit sausage in the rattlesnake stew and bison in the blazin' bison chili. Zoup! also debuted several globally inspired soups, including Singapore squash, dill pickle chowder, curry Thai chicken, dragonfire noodle bowl and Maryland crab.
Healthy with a focus on taste
While taste is super important to Zoup!, it also cares about providing healthy options, For example, it has low-fat, dairy-free, vegetarian, spicy and gluten-free recipes, and is in the process of recrafting more than 20 existing recipes with all gluten-free ingredients.
And in keeping with consumers' preferences for "cleaner" foods and ingredients, Ersher said the brand has created a line of 'Good, Really Good Super Premium Broths,' including chicken, savory veggie and low-sodium chicken.
"These all-natural, grocery/specialty store products have no calories, fat, GMOs, gluten or hormones," he said.
Zoup! has been celebrating National Soup Month by raising money to fight hunger and promote community involvement throughout all its franchises. During the first two weeks of January, Zoup! franchise owners arranged for employees to volunteer at local food banks and pantries. Also, customers who give a $3 or more donation toward Feeding America at any Zoup! location throughout January in the United States will receive a voucher for a complimentary 12-ounce up of soup on their next visit, redeemable after 3 p.m.
"Giving back is in our DNA. When we first started Zoup!, our sole marketing vehicle was participation in community events," Ersher said. "So, not only is it a natural extension of who we are, it's a natural for franchisees looking to engage with and serve their communities. We partnered with Feeding America specifically because we feel the role it plays in its communities aligns closely with soup's role in eliciting feelings of comfort, warmth, connection and community."
It also makes good business sense, said Ersher, who belives enriching the communities where he does business helps the brand build relationships and strengthen loyalty.
"It also reflects our company's culture, creates pride among team members and improves morale, all of which translates to a better, more authentic customer experience," he said.
Cherryh Cansler / Before joining Networld Media Group as director of Editorial, where she oversees Networld Media Group's nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-year career as a journalist, she's written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness. Her byline has appeared in a number of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for FastCasual.com.