Belgian healthy restaurant chain Foodmaker has doubled its sales in restaurants last year, with sales at retail partners Delhaize, Albert Heijn and Monoprix growing by almost half. CEO Lieven Vanlommel tinkers with profitability and sees great potential in corporate catering.
“The transition to healthier eating in retail is incredibly noticeable”, CEO Lieven Vanlommel explains his healthy growth figures. “Although food retail in our category is still at a lower turnover than before the pandemic, we are turning over an average of 43 % more at our partners. Paris is the best performer: there we are at + 64 % at Monoprix. In our own restaurants, sales have literally doubled, but we also have twice as many restaurants.”
2022 may have been a favourable year in terms of turnover, but it was also very stressful in terms of margin. With the wage rises coming up, the company has to step in: “Wages cost twenty million euros already, add 10 % to that… I recently sat down with all our retailers: we agreed the same price increase with everyone. Even in our own restaurants, prices are going up. As a result, we will break even from January, despite those record sales. So we have to start optimising where we can.”
50% more productivity
Productivity per hour worked has increased by 50 % over the past three years at Foodmaker. “I can ask no more of our employees, so we have to look at our raw materials in order to cut costs.” Foodmaker’s new restaurant concept also contributes to profitability: “These are smaller shops, focused on lunch, as company restaurants: lower rent – mostly turnover based – and more limited opening hours, making us profitable with one to two employees per restaurant. An average Foodmaker restaurant used to employ ten people.”
Foodmaker is adapting to the ‘new normal’, Vanlommel sees: “In Brussels, people only work two to three days a week in the office nowadays. I think it will be money time for us in 2023: I want a share of at least 10 % in the company restaurant segment. This is possible because all contracts with the big caterers must now be renegotiated. Just imagine: at Proximus, there used to be 6,000 people in the office every day, now there are 2,000 on average. And then we come up – in fact, we already have an offer for much smaller companies as well, of 200 people, for example.”
Getting flagship stores profitable
Online sales are stable, but “I am not in favour of delivering directly to customers: that is not a sustainable model. I prefer pick-up points, for example at Delhaize. We are focusing on our restaurants: they need to become more profitable.”
Indeed, of the current twenty Foodmaker restaurants, four are still loss-making. These are the large flagship stores in high traffic locations with high rents: the Meir in Antwerp, the Guldenvlieslaan in Brussels, the Botermarkt in Hasselt and the Turfmarkt in The Hague. “We are going to make continuous improvements here so that every square metre generates more sales. We are going to fight this year to get the Meir store profitable.”
The bar is also set high in terms of expansion: “I will not be satisfied if we do not open a new restaurant every month next year. Quite a few are already certain: a restaurant in the centre of Leuven, a company restaurant at EY, further expansion at Sportoase in Beringen, Londerzeel, Knokke and Wilsele…” Official figures will be communicated on 24 January.