Magazine article Marketing

One to Watch: Fresh Italy

Magazine article Marketing

One to Watch: Fresh Italy

Article excerpt

This fast-food chain has found a gap in the market for value food based on authentic Italian recipes.

It is lunchtime and Fresh Italy is getting busy. A lengthy queue is forming at the counter and the chatter of diners is drowning out the shrill hiss of the coffee machine. The cafe, on King William Street in the heart of the City, has been open for only three weeks, but already has plenty of regulars.

Overseeing the bustle is founder Tom Allchurch. A former marketer at Unilever and Amazon, he went solo in 2002, before launching the first Fresh Italy a year later with a outlet in nearby Ludgate Hill. Last year, he took the concept to the Lakeside shopping centre in Essex. The King William Street outlet is the chain's third.

Allchurch is an admirer of rivals Pret A Manger, Starbucks, Pizza Express and Caffe Nero, but believes he has found a gap these operators have missed.

The concept behind Fresh Italy, he says, is fast food that is 'tasty, hot, healthy, quick and excellent value for money'. It offers a range of pasta dishes and risottos for between pounds 3 and pounds 4. They are served within a couple of minutes of being ordered in an insulated pack originally designed as a coffee cup, so the food stays warm and is easily portable.

Unlike most fast food, Fresh Italy has genuine foodie credentials. As all the dishes use authentic Italian recipes, ingredients such as pasta, arborio rice, Parmigiano Reggiano and olive oil are imported from Italy. The company has even developed a process that measures the pasta's cooking time to the second, ensuring it is always perfectly al dente.

The City outlets' target market is the lunchtime crowd. Allchurch estimates that within 300 metres of both there are 30,000 office workers. His marketing has focused on generating word of mouth among this group. The stores run occasional discount promotions for local offices to drive footfall, then rely on the quality of their food to do the rest.

It seems to be working. Each store is serving 500 to 600 customers a day and Allchurch plans to open between three and six more, all in the City, next year. In the long term, he plans to move into other business-heavy areas and, building on the Lakeside experience, consumer-focused venues such as railway stations and shopping centres.

But Fresh Italy has not been without its teething problems. In 2003, it was decided that the portions were too small. They were made bigger, but prices rose by 30%. Sales duly slumped 50% because, according to Allchurch, the market is extremely price-sensitive. …

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