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BIG, FAT, GREEK RESTAURANT.

Summary: Andres Gonzalez, General Manager of Fast Casual division at Foodmark talks about bringing the US-based Greek brand, GRK Fresh Greek, to the GCC, adapting the menu and dining experience to the region, as well as the industry outlook

GRK Fresh Greek is a franchised business, launched in new York in 2012, with the first outlet opening in Dubai at the end of 2015. The proprietary rights are with New York-based Greek entrepreneur and brand founder, George Nikas, according to Andres Gonzalez, General Manager of Fast Casual division at Foodmark, the food and beverage division of the Landmark Group. He added that the partnership between Landmark and GRK Fresh Greek was brokered by a local agent specialising in exposing local businesses to emerging international brands, with the potential to grow in the local market.

"The core elements of the business are the high quality USDA meats, which are sourced directly from the United States, from local farms in New Jersey, which are then produced by Megas Yeeros, one of the world's leading yeeros producers. The franchisee is required to manage all of the aspects of the business including real estate, human resourcing and marketing with the support of the franchisor in areas related to menu development and providing branding elements and adapting them to the local market," said Gonzalez.

Foodmark has the master franchise agreement for the GCC, granting exclusivity rights to operating and developing the brand across the market. Gonzalez added that the business plan includes opening 50 restaurants in the GCC region over the next 10 years.

"With the ever evolving economic and political conditions in the region, the expansion landscape is still very fluid. At present the strategy is to penetrate the UAE and Qatar markets, focusing on Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha to a greater degree within the next three years, and we plan entry into Saudi Arabia for 2018," he said.

Initial testing of the brand in the Dubai market has provided positive, indicating that the brand is suited to cater to key nationalities in the region. Expanding the brand to other markets will start with two new restaurants in Qatar within the next 12 months, he added.

OVERCOMING CHALLENGES

One of the biggest challenges when introducing a new brand to market, according to Gonzalez, is how to pitch the brand positioning within the industry. This applies not only to site selection, but also to the menu design and the development of the communications strategy.

"We have conducted consumer research (both in-house and third- party) to better understand our primary target audience and how to broaden GRK's brand appeal to a wider audience. As a result of the strong cultural diversification of the market, and given that the density of the population is lower than places such as New York, where the host brand is based, it means that by bringing the brand to Dubai, we need to be tactical in our communication. Anything from our menu content to our social media content and style of imagery has been carefully considered to increase competitive advantage," he said.

The Foodmark team knew the brand is positioned in New York as fast casual, with the likes of Chipotle and Panera Bread, as part of a fast growing and well-established segment.

"Here in the UAE the fast casual segment is still developing, so we decided to pitch the brand at a slightly higher positioning to the US with western customers in mind, in order to facilitate perception and acceptance but potentially alienating other demographics with higher population in the UAE. This was a strategic decision made to give the brand an easier market entry, following which we were able to build on our insights and further tweak the next version of the operating model," said Gonzalez.

The other challenge faced by the team was the short supply of prime real estate in Dubai, as GRK thrives in areas with high density and traffic, and in Dubai especially, those areas where target demographics may be found in larger groups are scarce. He added that the big malls have extensive waiting lists, and more established developments already have operators trading successfully, so empty units in the likes of Dubai Mall or DIFC are difficult to secure.

FRANCHISEE SUPPORT

The management structure is solely provided by Foodmark with a dedicated team for the development of the brand, including Gonzalez as the business head, a marketing team, and all other functions including HR, procurement, real estate and leasing are provided by Foodmark's central team.

"The US-based GRK Fresh Greek team are very progressive and have been on board at every stage with us. The host brand fully understands the requirements of the brand in the GCC region, which have been slightly different to that in the US. In this regard, the commitment of the host brand has been key in understanding and supporting our team calibrating new recipes, amending specs for food presentation and service standards. In the UAE we operate a system where we deliver dine-in orders to the customers' tables, whereas in the US customers are asked to wait for their food by the front counter.

Here we use non-disposable plate ware and our next restaurant will have an even more premium feel," said Gonzalez.

He added that the US team has participated closely in terms of the asset design, including sourcing of locally available materials in order to maintain the GRK Fresh Greek interior guidelines, meaning to deliver the brand personality, stores were fitted out with concrete finish tiles and wall elements, and using a colour palette with greys and browns. The sizes of the restaurants do vary depending on the restaurant, with a flagship unit requiring an average of 762 square metres and an express unit requiring about half as much space.

"A brand representative was on the ground with our local team during the lead up to our first opening in Me'aisem City Centre, as well as the US's highly experienced chef who was on hand to support the back of house team. The Operations Director of GRK is also due to support with all upcoming openings," said Gonzalez.

Menu development was another consideration for the team, as they had to take multiple aspects into account including demographic, local tastes and the current softening market conditions.

"We have created our own recipes inspired by authentic Greek street food. In its original form the concept's core trade comes from lunchtime users, in the buzzing business districts of NYC and the original GRK menu caters perfectly to this area's consumer need. In order to successfully operate in this market we have developed a menu that will work for all day parts, within a variety of contexts," said Gonzalez.

To increase versatility of the brand, the team developed a menu with a wider range and new food categories such as starters and desserts, coffees and a breakfast offering. He added that consumer use in the US is functional and guests tend to grab and go, but customer behaviour differs in this market, where users are looking for an experience rather than an on-the- go meal option. The guest experience in Dubai is enhanced by adapting the service style, the physical menu, food range and the small wares and food presentation.

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Publication:financeME
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Sep 30, 2016
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