Healthy fast-food chain Salade has just opened its fourth London outlet, at Paddington station. Clare Sykes, the group's business director, tells Chris Druce why healthy eating is a growth industry
What's Salade all about?
We're a healthy fast-food business that prides itself on offering quality ingredients and great service. Our stores offer take-away, eat-in and a corporate delivery service, which accounts for around a quarter of our total sales. At the heart of what we do is a ‘build-it-yourself' salad bar offering 57 ingredients. We offer smoothies and grab-and-go, and do seasonal promotions and menu changes. Everything's made freshly on the premises each day.
Are you worried that healthy eating will be a passing fad?
We generally follow the USA, and there you'll find 40 to 50 salad-bar operations in New York alone. Even Starbucks now offers a salad bar in its cafés. We opened our first store [in Green Park] five years ago and have experienced year-on-year growth of 35% since. At Green Park, the clientele is 70% male, as we're surrounded by hedge funds and the like, and it's clear there's a whole generation of guys in their 20s who care about what they put in their bodies and have made eating healthily part of their lifestyle. Years ago, if you worked in finance, ate salad and did yoga you'd probably have been taken out and stoned.
Why do you offer free Wi-Fi in-store?
We don't have a head office, so it's useful for me, but it simply doesn't make sense to charge as we consider it part of customer service. It's a way for us to give customers something extra at not a lot of cost and it offsets the fact that we cost more than a sandwich lunch from Boots.
Is food inflation hurting you?
Like all caterers we're battling it. We did have a small price increase at the start of the year but at the moment we're absorbing the cost increases. I'm not certain that consumers fully appreciate the situation. They're aware of it but much of the debate about food inflation and its implications seems to have taken place in the specialist press and I'm still not sure how ready customers are to see prices rise.
We're in the early stages of franchising in the United Arab Emirates and actively exploring our options. This autumn we'll open our fifth and sixth stores, in Poland Street, Soho, and at Canary Wharf. We're forecasting turnover of £2.5m this year and ultimately we're aiming for 20 London stores by the end of 2009.
Are we likely to see Salade outside London?
We intend to stay in London for now as there's so much opportunity here for us. Ultimately it's vital for our business to be in areas where we can guarantee significant footfall, which outside the capital you can't always be certain you'll get.