The market is changing and there are some fascinating dynamics at play. The High Street offers are under pressure and yet at the same time there are new concepts and operations opening all the time.
Some argue that brands are less impactful but others argue that the consumer today is simply more knowledgeable and wants a product with integrity and substance.
There is no doubt that the food scene is vibrant and arguably over supplied and in such markets, it is not just the strongest that will prosper but those that offer that extra something that will resonate with the customer. This means there is always a gap for a growing young business with quality at its core.
One such example could be a young Pizza business that is growing – The Wood Fired Pizza Company – which presently operates at Ascot Racecourse and The American Express Stadium Brighton & Hove Albion’s Home ground. At both operations they are performing strongly and moreover have outperformed more established brands. Why? Arguably due to old fashioned foundation stones – quality produce, genuine expertise and a strong family leadership team.
Russell Allen, one of the founders, possess a culinary background that many would be proud of, having started his career at The Ritz and working his way through a range of great operations including The Four Seasons on Park Lane, The Carlton Tower, The Portman, The Langham and The Hilton and Thistle.
Russell is the calm, experienced elder of the team who has seen many highs and lows during his career. However his understanding of the product is arguably stronger than most and he genuinely has a love for ensuring that the product is as good as can be and constantly improving.
His partners in the business are his daughter, Toni and her partner Maiko. They are a strong unit and interestingly Maiko and Russell have become best friends as well as father in law and son in law – arguably a very rare scenario – but it is easy to see as to why as Maiko is so very different and possesses an equal passion to Russell for both his family and the business.
Maiko grew up in Brazil and started working at the tender ago of 14. By 18, he was running one of the largest garage operations in Southern Brazil and was building a good life for himself before his best friend tempted Maiko across to London for the experience. In London, Maiko started at the bottom, ironically working for Basilico – a pizza brand founded by Russell and another partner – and soon built his way up.
Maiko as a character is full of energy and commitment. As one can imagine from a young man that was running a business at 18, he is ambitious, driven and passionate and it is this combination of the calm experienced professional coupled with the energy and passion of the younger man that creates a formidable combination at the heart of the business.
Toni, the third member of the trio, is an equally strong character who was, according to Russell, strong willed from an early age but very grounded, mentally strong and keeps the two men on a level footing and disciplined.
Russell will understandably argue that “quality is the foundation of the business. Our product is exceptional”. However the combination between the three is real heart as they all bring strong core factors to the business – Russell understands food and production; Maiko on service and discipline – wanting to exceed customer expectations and Toni is the one that sits with the two men ensuring they are focused and working effectively.
The product is excellent and the speed of service has been well thought through and developed. The Wood Fired Pizza Company has the foundations to grow and become a genuine brand in its own right. The product already works well in stadia and concession operations and one can see could be translated to travel hubs, other stadia and leisure operations but also onto the High Street.
“The argument is that Pizza will continue to grow and continue in its popularity.”
The core difference though is the fact that they did not start thinking through a retailers eyes but through a customer’s eyes. The fundamentals of their approach are subtly different. Every day they challenge themselves on product development and on service levels. They believe that the customer will be the judge of their growth and one can see this at both Ascot and The Amex. At Ascot, they operate out of the same location as a renowned high street brand and their sales are well in excess. At The Amex, sales are improving each week as customers return in greater numbers.
Pizza is one of the nation’s favourite food items and it is a highly competitive market. However the product does compete against any high street offering as they are so committed in ensuring that everything in their production is as good as can be. There is no doubt that this comes from Russell’s long career in the kitchen within demanding 5 star hotels. That discipline has made a difference – and couple this with faster customer service and with a pleasant demeanour and it is natural that customers will return and increase their spend.
So what does the future hold in store?
The argument is that Pizza will continue to grow and continue in its popularity. However the argument is also that the consumer is becoming more discerning so the real differential in the future will be the quality of the product and this is where The Wood Fired Pizza Company may just hold a competitive advantage as at their core lies that extra culinary passion.