July 13, 2020

Real Foods Pivots Kauai

Real Foods pivots Kauai, launches free-range chicken and plans further international expansion including 20 fast-casual restaurants in 3 years in the UK – and more.

Covid-19 has put even the best businesses in the restaurant sector to the test. Real Foods Group, a leader in natural foods, which lists Kauai with 160 stores and other food brands in its portfolio, has pivoted during lockdown to adapt to changing customer needs and safety requirements, and position Real Foods for growth post-COVID: the group is expanding globally, launching two new brands and acquiring a food manufacturing business.

Kauai’s international expansion continues

Dean Kowarski, CEO of Real Foods announced that “Despite the international lockdown, Kauai is expanding further into Europe under a master territory franchise agreement with Wellness Brands Europe Ltd, and plans to open 20 of its Kauai fast-casual restaurants over the next three years in the UK. The first restaurant will open next month in Edinburgh with a second soon to follow.”

Says Richard Lowe, Operational Director, Wellness Brands Europe: “While this is an interesting time to be launching a new restaurant brand in the UK, we believe in the growth potential of healthy food, and are investing ahead of the gradual re-opening of the restaurant industry. We also understand the importance of healthy eating in boosting immune systems.”

The Kauai Thailand business opened its second location during lockdown, a dark kitchen focused on deliveries. Its first store, inside a Virgin Active health club, has reopened and both locations are growing week on week. New retail locations in Bangkok are also being sought for further expansion. Kauai’s first European store in the Netherlands (inside Utrecht Centraal Station) has also reopened.

Launches new chicken brand, Free Bird

Real Foods launched Free Bird, a new free-range crispy chicken burger concept at the end of May. Free Bird is initially trading as a virtual brand in dark kitchens around Cape Town, Sandton and Pretoria available via UberEats and Mr D with plans for physical retail locations over the coming months. Says Kowarski, “We saw the gap for a differentiated, premium, free-range crispy chicken burger and strips concept earlier in the year, but accelerated our launch plans during the lockdown and switched to dark kitchens.  It’s a high-quality menu, made with clean, wholesome ingredients that are locally sourced with full traceability. The free-range chicken comes from the Hemel en Aarde Valley near Hermanus, the fries are hand-cut daily, hand-made buns are from Schoon bakery in Stellenbosch, and condiments like pickled vegetables and authentic kimchi are made in-house using simple, fresh ingredients. It’s re-imagining comfort food for a modern era.”

Healthy at home with Kauai Real Foods Market

During the initial level 5 lockdown Real Foods saw the need to help customers remain healthy at home by offering convenient and healthful ready-to-eat meals and giving customers access to a healthy pantry online. The team created the concept of Kauai Real Foods Market, offering its healthy and convenient snack range, Pick n Pay frozen meal range and other pantry staples available via UberEats and Mr D.

When stores reopened with contactless pick-up and payment via the Kauai app for deliveries and takeaways, Kauai Real Foods Market expanded to additional Kauai stores, and further product development is underway. According to Glenda Philp, Head of Strategic Projects at Real Foods: “Although this venture was conceived during the lockdown, we believe there is an ongoing need to help South Africans to eat more healthily at home – we are excited about Kauai Real Food Market as a platform to do this, and have some innovative ideas in the pipeline.”

Acquisition of Uber Nutrition

A new addition to the Real Foods stable is Uber Nutrition, a private label snack bar development and manufacturing company. Uber Nutrition produces bars for several leading SA brands and is known for its highly innovative and healthy approach to ‘on the go’ food bar development. The acquisition complements Real Foods’ philosophy of providing clean, healthy food on the go, and also deepens opportunities for the group in the attractive, fast-growing, ready-to-eat snack category.

Schoon bakery business evolves

During the lockdown, Real Food’s bakery business, Schoon, was able to quickly pivot its business model to offer home delivery of its freshly baked bread and pastries. As lockdown restrictions begin to ease, Schoon has resumed takeaway orders, bread and pastry sales through its cafes, and is working with Checkers to resume the roll-out of its bread and pastries in stores. Schoon also embarked on a new partnership with UCook in its weekly market boxes and recipe boxes.

Looking ahead

Kowarski takes a practical and positive approach to the challenges that Covid-19 has posed to the restaurant industry: “We are especially aware of the impact that healthy eating can have on helping to keep communities healthy, and will continue in our mission of making it as easy, accessible and convenient as possible. The safety of our customers and staff also remains a key priority, so we have put in place social distancing and even more stringent hygiene measures at our stores across the globe. We are also adding new measures to make our stores as safe and welcoming as possible for the re-opening of sit-down restaurants this week.”

“It’s been a challenging few months, but we have reacted quickly and in step with government’s guidelines, to find new routes to market to serve our customers, and have launched exciting new products and brands that have been well received. The various teams have also continued to work throughout lockdown on building a pipeline of projects that will be rolling out in the second half of the year,” he concludes.