In Focus
EXECUTIVE INSIGHTS | Staff Reporter, Australia
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How customer feedback plays a key role in Muffin Break's quest to stay relevant

General manager Natalie Brennan explains the brand's approach in using their new loyalty app.

For heritage brand Muffin Break, turning 30 was also an opportunity to turn a new leaf and go digital.

Using momentum from its robust loyalty programme of over 300,000 active members, the brand recently released its new app that has since been pushed through their digital channels.

The move is the latest in their 30th anniversary celebration this year, with general manager Natalie Brennan telling QSR Media that their digital transformation is an opportunity to utilise data to directly speak to each customer.

QSR Media: Muffin Break (MB) recently launched its Loyalty App. Seeing the landscape of chains doing similar digital transformations, when did MB decide to pursue this and how would this be different from other brands' loyalty apps?
Brennan: We have been using app technology for a while with our rewards programme (i.e. buy 4 coffees, get the 5th one free) moving from a paper-based system to our first version of the App over five years ago. The preparation for the recent re-launch has taken almost two years. In that time, we have updated the back end of our systems to ensure the App integrates with the in-store POS systems and the loyalty database. Now, we can focus on a personalised journey for each of our customers.

Differently to other brand’s Apps, ours is not independent as its own platform. It operates in conjunction with every other digital platform we use to ensure that we collect the right data that will help us deliver a more customised customer experience.

There's an ongoing conversation about utilising data to drive loyalty. What's your take on this?
With data integrity at the forefront of the mind of consumers, we want to able to utilise loyalty data in a way that enhances the experience of customers, to predict what they want next, without seeming like ‘Big Brother’. Muffin Break’s focus on using the data collected is to deliver the right message to the customer at the right time. 

Whether it be a great muffin and coffee value offer, or a children’s meal, customers no longer will receive blanketed marketing messages. We are now able to speak to each customer based on what they love most about the brand. The messaging is specifically targeted to their needs so that they feel understood by us and when coupled with a great in-store experience, they will continue their loyalty to Muffin Break.

Will we see MB invest more in digital to drive retention or will it continue to focus on in-store operations?
The investment in a digital retention strategy is of the same value as the focus on in-store operations. While we are now able to entice customers with promotions specific to their buying behaviour, to retain their loyalty it has to be backed up by a seamless experience in store. From the digital message to the customer experience in-store, each step has to deliver on the brand promise.

MB had just celebrated its 30th anniversary. Being a heritage brand, what are some of the key lessons the chain has learned about the Australian market?
Our greatest lesson is that you need to be constantly changing in order to remain relevant to your customers. We have always collected customer feedback: originally, very manually with handwritten customer feedback cards to now, collected digitally through our website, App and QR codes. All of this feedback has helped shape who we are today by showing us what trends and priorities we need to focus on. This could be anything from introducing a healthier kid’s meal offer, to not charging for soymilk and introducing gluten-free muffin varieties. Every one of these offers was driven by our customers telling us what they wanted. It seems basic, but ensuring we are meeting customers’ needs is why we are still in business.

Aside from the digital disruptions (i.e. delivery, ordering), what have been the trends the chain has seen throughout its existence?
Food has always been a focus and we have moved with every food trend including Heart Tick, Soy & Linseed, Low Fat, Low Carb, Low Sugar, Bran, Wholegrain, Wholemeal, Organic, Fair Trade, Hybrid foods and Gluten-Free. Our ability to keep changing is what has kept us relevant. 

Most recently, our customers are communicating to us trends related to vegan options and extending our options for different milks for coffee, from offering just soymilk to now a variety of alternative and plant-based milks. We introduced these alternatives to address our customer’s dietary requirements, but today because of popularity we recognise that this is just “business as usual”. Although it doesn’t seem obvious, both of these trends are related to our customers' concern about the health of the planet. Sustainability in relation to everything we do in business will continue to be a change agent and for many, a major disruption to the way they do business today.

What can we expect from MB for the rest of the year? How about for the next years?
This year and beyond, you will see us continue to partner with other great Aussie brands like Darrell Lea to create exciting new products. But we aren’t just selling muffins and coffee. With a legacy brand such as Muffin Break, we also want to ensure that we are helping the communities in which we live, continue to thrive and our sustainability journey is one of those projects. 

Our recent awards for our work in sustainability initiatives recognises the great start we have made with the brand. We are now looking at how else we can influence not only the brand usage, but the whole industry to make a more noticeable impact in reducing Australia’s landfill. Whether that be collecting coffee grinds, food waste or minimising packaging there is a larger strategy to be executed to influence this change in our current retail waste systems.

There are also opportunities in convenience and in QSR which the Muffin Break concept is well positioned to take advantage of. Our investment in the UK has also created a launching pad for us to rapidly increase our Muffin Break (and sister brand Jamaica Blue) footprint over the next few years. We are very excited about the future opportunities for both our brands both here in Australia and internationally.

Are the retail headwinds having an impact on Muffin Break?
There’s no doubt that the past three years have been challenging. Consumer confidence and discretionary spending is low and there’s clearly been an impact on small business investment from the banking royal commission and parliamentary inquiry into franchising. That said, we are also seeing many opportunities arise for the brand. The lessors are keen to secure well known, reputable brands and are providing us with very attractive commercial terms on new site opportunities across Australia and New Zealand. We are achieving fantastic results on renewals, which in turn increases profitability for our franchise partners.

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