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Crust counts on alliances with gourmet food brands to widen premium market slice

General manager Jon Paul Partyka also elaborates on the brand’s satellite store strategy and why he believes delivery will define the next five to ten years for the industry.

For Crust, 2022 is a year of forging “alliances” with gourmet food brands – looking to gain a bigger slice in the premium space and no longer treating the pizza category as its sole battleground.

“These partnerships are not just your standard, run-of-the-mill partnerships. It's not Nestle partnering with Kellogg's. These are really gourmet, really cool companies that we are going to have the opportunity to partner with and to showcase their products on our pizzas and our sides,” general manager Jon Paul Partyka explained to QSR Media.

The move builds on parent Retail Food Group’s recent half-year results that its QSR division, which includes both Crust and Pizza Capers, was a “standout performer” and enjoyed a same store growth of 6.8% year-on-year.

Value models introduced by the division during FY21 were seen as having been complemented by products such as Crust’s first ever plant-based protein range, which drove a 7.7% increase in same store sales.

“Over the last few years, we've seen a significant rise in plant-based and flexitarian culture take place,” Partyka said, in reference to the plant-based range. “Almost one-fourth of the consumers out there are interested at some level…However, nobody was doing it justice.”

“There are a few brands that do great, don't get me wrong. But we wanted to take it to the nth degree and say, we are really taking this seriously.”

Whilst not the first to introduce plant-based pizza in Australia, Partyka stressed the decision was based on what their consumers wanted — not what their “potential competition is doing.”

"Pizza’s pizza at the end of the day. However, in the new digital age, everyone is a competition against us. I view anyone out there who is on a delivery platform as a potential competition to the Crust brand.”

Delivery to define next five to ten years
This partly informs the chain’s decision to innovate in the delivery space from a customer purchase standpoint in the next 12 to 24 months, believing it as a key battleground over the next decade.

Decreasing delivery times is a big focus, eyeing to bring it down around the 30-minute mark across the network. E-bikes in shorter delivery radiuses and bolstering their e-commerce platform to track deliveries is also on their docket.

Partyka is also thinking about ways to engineer products to deal with “harsh realities” during deliveries.

“If you're…in the QSR space and you are not seriously considering online ordering and/or third party aggregator[s], you are already very behind. These are going to define the next five to ten years of the food industry within Australia,” Partyka said.

“If you are not creating your products to be delivered in a way where that product can [be] present[ed] the same way at somebody's house on their dining table 45 minutes after it was made and that product doesn't present the same way that it does in your store five minutes after it comes out of the oven or five minutes after you make the product, you're missing the target.”

Smaller stores for wider sales radius
Expecting its “vast majority” of online sales to increase, Partyka believes the brand’s planned ‘satellite’ stores to help meet demand. He hopes the brand’s have two of those stores in the region by the middle of the year.

“We're looking at roughly 50 square meters. We're not looking to go big,” he explained. There are a lot of our stores out there that are 100-plus square meters; that was good back in 2008.”

“In fact, the smaller the better. So we're looking for smaller outlets. We do want to have a storefront presence so we are looking to be in centralized streets and that kind of stuff where possible,” he clarified.

Smaller sized stores means less rent for the franchisees, Partyka added, which could mean less investment on their end in being able to open up a second store.

“The vast majority of our sales come from within a two kilometer radius of the stores and so that distance from that store would at least be within that range.”

Crust is set to celebrate its 21st year of operations, with Partyka teasing the return of fan favorites that will get changes to “make them a little bit more fun to us.”

Optimistic about the year, the executive revealed they have been getting applications to open in territories that they “never really thought of potentially going into the past.” 

“It's almost opened up like a new era for us within the brand and opened up an entirely new customer [base] and new territor[ies] that we just never thought possible,” he added.

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