Can fast-casual concept Farmstand go global without storefronts?

With millions to invest in the business, this mainly vegan, sustainable health food offering will never put Impossible Burger on its menu but does have huge growth plans.

7 August 2018
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It’s a largely plant-powered food business, but Farmstand’s founder Steven Novick isn’t interested in the Impossible Burgers of the world.

The sustainable, fast-casual concept has just secured £2.3m in funding to expand its offline and online business model to 100 locations in London over the next four years. It currently has one restaurant in London that offers build-your-own meals as well as grab and go.

Novick doesn’t see plant-based burgers that bleed as a growth area or one that can help Farmstand’s global mission of addressing healthcare and environmental problems.

“There has been a huge conversation about Impossible Burger and all these alternative burgers that are out there,” he tells Food Spark. “I think people are starting to realise that if they eat a plant-based and whole-food diet five days a week, then if they want to have, in our case, a beef brisket or a Cuban beef or even a sustainably sourced fish once or twice a week, you can still do that… I personally don’t see those alternative products doing very well because they don’t taste very good and they are not comparable to a traditional burger.

“I think people want the real thing when it comes to burgers. I think a lot of these alternative meat products, there’s artificial ingredients, so are they healthy? The amount of the environmental impact from them is still unknown too.”

Farmstand doesn’t seem too interested in jumping on any bandwagon, with its plan to go global focused on building its online business, rather than a push to be on every high street.

Sustainability, seasonality and street food

The menu at Farmstand is 80% vegan, 15% ethical meat and 5% sustainable fish. It’s also free from dairy and gluten.

Novick says he would love for the business to be 100% vegan, but he doesn’t believe it’s commercially viable. He predicts that by 2050, a third of the world’s population will be vegetarian, but he doesn’t see meat disappearing from menus any time soon.

Farmstand also sources its ingredients from UK-based ethical suppliers to support sustainability, as well as control quality and ensure traceability in its supply chain. Its chicken comes from a family-run butcher called H G Walter, which is based in Barons Court. Beef, lamb and eggs are sourced from a farm in Wales. Fruit and vegetables arrive from New Covent Garden Market and the bread is sourced from Artisan Gluten Free Bakery in Peckham.

“Typical food miles globally from field to plate are 1,300, but ours are close to 200,” comments Novick.

Current highlights on the menu are the hake with smoky chickpeas and roasted tomatoes, and a dish of roasted roots with chimichurri, but the offering changes seasonally. Novick is about to sign off on the autumn menu, but is tight-lipped on the details.

One thing that has been on the menu for over a year and is a favourite of Novick’s is the mushroom latte, which is made with oat milk – a trend he credits as coming from Australia. Mushroom coffee is

something that Whole Foods predicted would take off this year, with a few American cafes also serving them up.

Novick says Farmstand’s menu is influenced by trends from LA to Melbourne and beyond.

“We try not to put stuff on the menu that is long term and we never do things that are unhealthy,” he says. “There are vegan places that describe themselves as healthy but everything is deep fried or has tonnes of added sugar – that is something we are never going to do. We look at takes on classic dishes but put a Farmstand spin on it, and we look at everything from street food to Michelin-star restaurants and everything in between.”

When Farmstand first launched in 2016, its harissa chicken and pulled beef were bestsellers, but Novick says this has balanced out, with vegan and fish options now on par. “We like to get people to realise that our vegan food is clean, but it doesn’t have to be boring and can actually have lots of flavour,” he says.

Back on those bleeding burgers, Farmstand has created plant-based burgers for its commercial partners, made from natural ingredients like sweet potato and mushrooms.

Global business without the stores?

But with only one location in Covent Garden, how does Farmstand plan to go global?

While it has a target of five flagship stores in major cities by 2020, the company’s larger strategy is to continue partnering with businesses and using their physical locations, plus Farmstand technology, to create an experience, brand recognition, advertising and distribution.

This is then meant to have a knock on effect by converting offline customers to online buyers in order to grow sales by 30% to 50% of revenue.

“Having a connection with a person, with your brand and interacting with them in a physical space is super important, but we don’t think you need to have 300 locations to build a global business,” explains Novick.

“By partnering with businesses in physical locations and by adding in technology, it allows us to scale up on an asset-light, capital-light basis. We believe at the moment no one is doing what we are doing.”

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