Spar chain Eat 17 has launched a convenience franchise that focuses on a premium own-label and fresh food-to-go range.

The company, founded in 2006 by stepbrothers James Brundle and Chris O’Connor, made the franchise model available to independent retailers this month.

Brundle told betterRetailing the company has had enquiries about joining the Eat 17 brand previously, and the decision to launch now was inspired by the shutdown of restaurants and bars during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The closure of businesses in hospitality has now come to a stage where everyone is considering where they want to take their businesses to,” he said.

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“In the past, we’ve successfully managed to merge food and retail together in some of our existing four sites, and this is a good solution to offer to people.

“We’ve already had a lot of enquiries since launching the franchise model and, ultimately, it’ll be something different. It will be the convenience franchise of the future.”

The company is initially seeking two franchisees to join the brand in major cities this year, adding to three company-owned shops in London, and another in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire.

Some of Eat 17’s existing stores combine traditional convenience offerings such as toiletries, alcohol and PayPoint, with street food stalls, seated dining areas, fishmongers and home delivery.

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Explaining what kind of franchisees Eat 17 is looking for, Brundle said: “The brand is key to us, and we want to find someone who can represent the brand.

“They can be an existing or new retailer, and the beauty of our concept is that we can introduce food to go into an existing convenience outlet, or a convenience store into a restaurant.

“For example, Bishop’s Stortford offers predominantly street food-based food to go, and that’s possibly the direction the market is moving to. At our site in Walthamstow, we have combined the shop into the restaurant and are offering coffee, a bar and fresh produce.

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“We’re only after a couple of retailers this year because it will give us enough time to provide the right support. We’ll help them set up, show them what our processes are and give them access to our suppliers. Franchisees will also see us go in and help with layout and merchandising, and there will be ongoing support.”

Brundle said their existing sites have won awards and they are looking for retailers with that same drive.

“There is no set requirement on size or layout depending on location,” he added. “We understand it cannot necessarily work like that and that’s not how we’ve operated our existing sites. They’re quite customisable.”

Eat 17 own label

Franchisees will also receive access to a premium own-label range of fresh and ambient products, which is prepared from scratch by chefs each day. “We have our own production kitchen with a range of more than 200 sandwiches and wraps,” Brundle said.

“We also bake our bread from scratch. These are all delivered fresh to our sites each day. The Eat 17 range is quite large and that’s a big focal point for us.”

When betterRetailing interviewed Brundle in 2018, shortly after the opening of Eat 17’s Bishop’s Stortford site, he said the store was achieving overall margins of 35%.

Alongside manufacturing its own products and sourcing others from local suppliers, the company also receives supply and support from Spar wholesaler AF Blakemore.

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Store owners who join the franchise will also have the option to receive similar support from the wholesaler, as well as having Spar’s branding alongside the Eat 17 logo on their shop fronts.

“We work closely with Blakemore, but haven’t yet sat down and mapped an absolute plan for every retailer,” he said. “However, franchisees will potentially get the best of both worlds.”

The coronavirus pandemic has also led to an increase in demand for Eat 17’s own-label bread range. Baked on site at its Bishop’s Stortford site, the range is sold across all four shops and to other symbol group retailers based in London.

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When asked by betterRetailing what future developments can be expected of existing Eat 17 stores, Brundle said: “We’re looking at franchising as the course of growth for us and the brand.”

The company had operated a site in Whitstable in Kent, but this was sold due to lack of demand outside of the summer.

Explaining the sale, Brundle said: “Whitstable was very seasonal, and that wasn’t the right fit. Sometimes that happens, and you won’t be perfect everywhere. There was a difference in the trade.”

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