Belgian ghost kitchen specialist Casper has raised fresh money for expansion into the Netherlands and France. “Convenience is here to stay,” says CEO Matthias Laga. “We are not competing with restaurants, but with the supermarket.”
Expanding catchment area
Casper, the leading player in the virtual kitchens sector in Belgium, has raised 5 million euros in growth capital in a funding round led by Amsterdam-based fund Slingshot Ventures, together with serial entrepreneurs Jürgen Ingels (Smartfin), Zhong Xu and Jan Hollez (Deliverect). With that money, Casper wants to make the jump from seven to as many as fifty international locations by 2024. The focus is on the Netherlands and France, co-founder and CEO Matthias Laga tells RetailDetail.
“We have currently already signed three locations in the Netherlands and our growth manager is on the road every day to get the next one fixed. In France we are in an advanced stage for signing the first locations. It is certainly our intention to broaden our scope: in the Netherlands we are aiming at the busiest region, between The Hague, Rotterdam, Utrecht and Amsterdam; in France we are going to Lille first, then further south.”
The money raised is used to pay for these new locations on the one hand, and to expand the team on the other. “We need more growth money than that, but we are already seeing very good results from our mature shops in Belgium, so we can finance part of it ourselves. What we have done in Belgium – a delivery-proof offering at a competitive price in a sustainable format – is a huge success. We are 100% sure that we will also score internationally with this offer,” says Laga.
The ghost kitchen commercialises ten virtual brands that are not only listed separately on ordering platforms such as Deliveroo, but also together under the Casper umbrella. “So with us, you can combine different brands in one order: a burger with a healthy salad from Pascale Naessens, for example, a bagel and a lasagne. That is very unique, something like that does not exist in the Netherlands. We are confident that we can extend this approach to other countries.”
“We will adapt our brands though: we won’t be using a typical Flemish brand like Bertha for example. Our R&D department is busy developing brands that will better appeal to the French or Dutch consumer. The basis will remain the same, but the accents will be different.”
With inflation and the war in Ukraine, does Laga not see any worrying changes in consumer behaviour at the moment? “Due to the current economic situation, people will indeed reconsider their spending, we should not be blind to that. But what will not change is the growing need for convenience. People are getting more and more used to that, not just for delivering meals but everywhere: look at bol.com, Amazon, Gorillas…”
“Fortunately, since day one we have been focused on offering quality meals at competitive prices. We are not a discounter but we are competitive, even in uncertain times. Looking at our sales this month and last, I don’t think we need to be too worried.”
Corona was blessing and curse
The normalisation of post-Corona eating and buying behaviour does not frighten entrepreneurs either. “Corona was both a blessing and a curse for us. We opened our first location in March 2020. At the time, the pandemic was an accelerator: the first lockdown made Belgians discover the food delivery option. During the second lockdown, everyone jumped on the bandwagon – even top chefs started offering take-out – but in the third lockdown, about one-third of those new suppliers dropped out again. After all, it is not that simple to adapt your restaurant offer: not only because not every dish is delivery-proof, but also because you have to factor in the commissions you pay to the delivery platforms.”
Casper is not a competitor of restaurants, Laga thinks: “We do not offer the same customer experience, we can perfectly coexist. I do think that we are taking a bite out of supermarkets’ sales, because people now realise that there are more options for getting a meal.”