In Focus
FRANCHISING | Staff Reporter, Australia

Find out how Bucking Bull is planning to transition from food court to fast casual

QSR Media spoke with Aktiv Brands Executive Director Dean Vella to talk about the brand's 'game-changing' new concept store and where this new direction will take the brand in the future.

The carvery franchise launched a new concept store on the Gold Coast in Queensland. Located in Australia Fair Shopping Centre, the new Bucking Bull store is the biggest change yet for the brand, with a contemporary store design and a new menu that includes a range of artisan burgers, rolls, and bread-free bowls.

QSR Media: Can you tell us more about the new direction Bucking Bull is taking with this new store?

Dean Vella: The fast-casual market is arguably one of the fastest growing areas in Australian food retail. The concept at Australia Fair, whilst still in the food court, is a bridging concept between our existing food court model and where we see the brand expanding into the fast-casual space in the future.

This new concept is about making slow cooking and the Bucking Bull menu more relevant to today’s market and the changing tastes of Australian consumers. Roasting will always be a big part of what we do, but this menu is about showcasing slow cooking in a new and innovative light. We have developed a range of meat-centric burgers, rolls and bread-free salads, that flaunt the flavours of our slow cooked meat in an exciting way.

The concept store in Australia Fair is by far, the biggest change we’ve implemented to Bucking Bull so far. We underwent a significant rebrand a couple of years ago, however this is the first time we’ve made such a dramatic change to the menu and concept in general. The store feels more like a trendy burger bar than a traditional carvery.

QSR Media: How are your customers reacting to the new store and your new products?

Dean Vella: It’s been really interesting to watch customers’ reactions to the new store. Because there’s no bain marie and typical display of roast meats, they are at first surprised to find it’s actually a Bucking Bull.

We’ve taken a big risk with this menu and there was a genuine fear that removing a lot of our classic menu items would result in lost customers. Yet that’s not been the case at all! We couldn’t be happier with how customers are embracing the concept.

QSR Media: What did you learn during this process?

Dean Vella: Over the past 17 years we’ve tried to be everything to everyone in terms of our menu offering. However, this new concept has demonstrated the power of a simple, yet well executed menu. I think we’ve struck the right balance between having a menu large enough to cater to a wide range of preferences, yet compact enough to really master amazing presentation of each and every product.

QSR Media: What are the challenges you are facing towards increasing your brand footprint and expanding into the fast-casual market?

Dean Vella: For us, the day parts in which we serve will be different in the fast-casual model, and this presents some challenges. Currently in the food court, we are predominantly a lunchtime destination, however as our models evolve into these new spaces we need to ensure we have an offer that is strong through all day parts- Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

QSR Media: Any other comments?

Dean Vella: Whilst retail in general has been quite tough over the past 5-7 years, the food retail category has seemed to have performed quite strong. As a result, food has become the hero in the retail environment and lessors have recognized this by creating many more dining and food spaces within the centres. We believe this has shifted the dynamic of the traditional food court.

Food courts were once the only destination in a shopping centre for customers to eat and as such, they were more of a necessity rather than an experience. As the centres have introduced new dining zones such as fresh food areas, restaurant precincts, fast casual zones and café options throughout, we’ve noticed that the profile of the customer visiting the food court has also changed.

What is now important to a food court customer is value, speed of service, simple ordering process and a product that is portable. We’ve acknowledged the need to change to remain relevant to this customer.

You will notice that the change in our menu reflects those key fundamentals. Our menu is very simple to order from, our operational flow now ensures that our speed of service is much quicker than it ever has been, and that our pricing points are competitive within the food court environment. Our new product offer is also exceptionally portable, which is a massive departure from the two-handed approach needed to consume a roast meal.

We’re excited about the potential this model has for our brand and franchisees, and excited to be planning our very first licensed fast-casual restaurant in early 2017.

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