How Freshii is morphing into a category-agnostic health and wellness brand

The QSR-born company is expanding beyond resto, launching vitamins and supplements under a new line of business.

Freshii

Freshii, the Toronto-based purveyor of salads, bowls, and other health-minded meals and snacks, has had a whirlwind of a year.

Hard-hit by pandemic restrictions and a shift away from downtown commuting (and the lunch-time rush it typically brings), the company has attempted to drive revenue through its newly launched Plates, a dinner-focused offering to help capture the new 5 p.m. “lunch crowd.”

Last year, it also completed phase one of the launch of a new mobile app featuring user experience upgrades, basket-building item suggestions at checkout and loyalty enhancements. More recently, it began piloting in-app delivery. That’s in addition to new and expanded relationships with retailers including Walmart and Sobeys, which are helping fuel its growing CPG business.

It may not fully be out of the pandemic woods yet – same-store sales growth fell 28.4% during fiscal 2020 – but the company believes it’s on the right track as it looks to become a more category-agnostic health and wellness brand through new channels and adjacent business lines that fall outside of its core restaurant business.

That long-term strategy explains why the company recently entered the vitamins and supplements space, launching Freshii Apple Cider Vinegar Gummies earlier this month.

“Over the past year, the world [has] learned, in the environment of a pandemic, how fragile traditional restaurants truly are,” says Angela Argo, VP people culture, who was tasked with leading the launch. “Our goal is for Freshii to never look like a traditional restaurant again.”

The VP, who has been with the company around five years and has an HR background, says she was given the opportunity to lead the project due to Freshii’s “entrepreneurial” approach. She received cross-functional support from all departments, including marketing.

Containing apple cider vinegar – a very trendy health and wellness ingredient – the vitamins “are a source of antioxidants, help the function of your immune system, and help to maintain healthy metabolism,” according to Freshii. They are being sold direct-to-consumer online, as well as in all Canadian Freshii locations (although not yet in the U.S.), either by the bottle (at $23 each) or in supplies of three or five months ($69 and $108, respectively).

The launch comes as Freshii looks to transform its restaurants and online presence into health and wellness spaces that offer not only healthy meals and packaged goods, but also a selection of products from adjacent categories, Argo says. “We want to make being healthy convenient and affordable in areas that are outside of just food.”

The company hopes the launch will also serve as “another opportunity for us to get in front of guests who may not live or work near a Freshii restaurant,” the VP says. “It gives them the opportunity to purchase Freshii products, to get acquainted with our brand and to build that trust, and just really be able to truly be in all areas, even if we don’t have a bricks-and-mortar footprint there.”

The vitamins are part of Freshii’s current focus on building a more omnichannel business – which is why they are being sold and promoted in store, online and through the Freshii app.

The company has made omnichannel expansion the fourth pillar of its pandemic recovery strategy this year, after having set out to build its core restaurant business, accelerate its digital strategy and capture a bigger portion of the dinner occasion in 2020.

Argo says the ultimate goal is to be an experience in which customers can use the Freshii app to order a new supply of gummies to go with their salad and sparkling kombucha, and then have the entire order delivered through the app within an hour.

Freshii has seen growth from some of its investments last year. Mobile app sales grew 65% year-over-year in Q4, with its app-store rating climbing from the “mid-twos to 4.6.” And it continues to believe there’s potential for growth in the dinner occasion, which accounts for more than 10% of overall sales, according to a recent analyst call.