Photo credit: Sushi Izu/Facebook

Nearly ten years in, Sushi Izu seeks to reclaim momentum to go beyond its supermarket footprint

Advanced Fresh Concepts general manager for Australia Damien Blakeney reveals details on their sister brand and how they have remained resilient in a supermarket setting.

As the industry collectively normalises omnichannel customer experiences, the parent company of the Sushi Izu franchise said it is exploring going beyond its foothold in the supermarket and convenience store space by considering other locations.

“We are open to conversations with anyone who'd be interested in considering what we do anywhere in a business setting, university setting, we are certainly [and] definitely open to that. That's what our business is built on,” Advanced Fresh Concepts general manager for Australia Damien Blakeney told QSR Media.

Sushi Izu, which started with just three locations in December 2011, now has the lion’s share of the segment with 208 locations predominantly in Woolworths stores. It has over 10 locations available for franchise, according to its website.

The business does have one location outside of the supermarket channel but remains closed due to COVID. It is currently trialling a hub-and-spoke-type of model in WA where their sushi is made on location before being delivered in other locations within a five kilometer radius. They are also looking to make improvements to their app, which they launched in March.

Blakeney also reiterated they are committed to growing its sister brand Sunrise Sushi, imagining it as an arm for them to offer try out more delivery-friendly items.

“It would be the sushi that we offer today that we feel is deliverable so some of our fancy products...won't be consider[ed] at this stage because we just feel that it could not be delivered in a very messy format,” he said. “We have secured spaces in Victoria and New South Wales. Unfortunately, [because of] the pandemic, we had to pull the handbrake slightly. We're certainly keen to get back on that journey and see what opportunities do exist,” he said.

The chain recently expanded on their panko prawn range by creating variants and is gradually rolling out their brown rice and quinoa range, aiming to reach the health conscious. In select locations, they are also trialling a plant-based crispy chicken offering.

“We haven't gone and reinvented the wheel. We thought we'll just stick to what works for other people in the foodservice channels and we'll make it into a sushi product,” he said.

Responding to consumers’ “split-second” decisions
Blakeney, who has been with the company since its inception, believes they have been able to withstand the challenges from lockdowns past for having a consumer-led approach in “arranging” menus per location.

“Almost doing this for ten years, the one thing I've learned is that in a supermarket sitting in particular, you can't be all things to all people,” he said. “We probably spent the last two years paring it back because we probably did too much at one point in time. Now it is looking to slowly introduce things that we know work and then just be consistent.”

“For us, it's just about on-shelf availability to be honest,” he continued. “It's good to reinvent yourself but in the supermarket setting, people make decisions in a split second. Whereas you think about our competitors outside, people made a conscious choice to go there. They typically know what they want as well but by the same token, they will probably allow more time to make their decision whereas we don't have that luxury.”

On December 11, the chain’s 10th anniversary, the brand is celebrating the milestone by giving away 20,000 hand rolls for free. Whilst considering other channels and opportunities, Blakeney also reiterated wanting to ensure they maintain market share.

“It'll take a while for business confidence to get back to where it was...and we're finding that now, it's just a matter of time,” he said.

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