It started off as a juice and smoothie bar, but that's not the bulk of what Crussh does today. As CEO Shane Kavanagh tells Food Spark, the offering has expanded to encompass a range of healthy food choices: soups, fit pots, low-GI pots, hot pots, snacks and desserts.
It’s a message he is hoping to broadcast to a wider audience through a franchise deal with the world’s largest services company, Sodexo, which will bring its food to new markets, with plans to open at least 35 new sites over the next five years across the UK and Ireland.
The deal will see Crussh extend across workplace catering, universities, hospitals and government locations, taking a different approach to each location, whether it be a traditional cafe, a food truck or a pop-up.
Kavanagh also exclusively reveals that Crussh is moving into a leisure centre in St Albans, with a key focus on developing a kids' menu.
“It’s a work in progress. We haven’t fully developed it yet, but it’s a burger and chips kind of menu, but twisting it to be a main item served with sweet potato mash and peas,” he says.
“It’s still stuff that kids find accessible and still things kids will eat. So the fish finger is going to be a breaded baked goujon, rather than deep-fried fish.”
So what else does the healthy chain have under development?
While Crussh has been around for 20 years, Kavanagh says the growing popularity of health food has created an interesting scenario.
“Now everyone [on the high street] is doing healthy food and trying to jump in. So we are fighting over the same customers,” he says.
“Everyone has a vegan menu, Pret has done veggie Pret, and it's interesting finding people playing in your space that you never have really seen as competition. But overall it’s a great thing because the rise of healthy food is what we are all about.”
Kavanagh is also confident that Crussh brings something different to the healthy-eating market.
“We probably have things that are slightly more out there. I think our food tends to be a bit spicier than everyone else’s, and our dishes tend to be a little bit more edgier than the competition,” he says.
“But we find the competition is helpful. So it eases people who haven’t been particularly into healthy food before to try food at Pret and Nero and they really like it, and when they get introduced to us they get to try some more interesting things and bulletproof coffees. So now more people are receptive to the idea of healthy food and to have a hot vegan dish for lunch, and they find actually it’s a really tasty nice thing.”
Snacking and evening meals
A lot of work has been done with Crussh’s product development manager, James Kidman, to fill out the product range, particularly around healthy afternoon snacks, which have seen 20% growth over the past year, says Kavanagh.
“Snacking has been a really big thing, and desserts for us too. We are finding people are looking for a lot of our kind of entry-level price stuff, so we have a range of health pots all under £3,” he says.
Crussh has also developed a range of energy balls, with flavours like cherry bakewell, coconut and peanut butter, and chocolate peanut butter, as well as raw flapjacks. These aren’t baked but made with ingredients like fruits and nuts, then pressed into shape.
The chain has also been on the hunt for third-party-developed items, with an eye to adapting to people’s changing buying habits.
“We still have breakfast and lunch, but we now sell a lot of food in evening and people take stuff home, so there is a bit more flexibility to try to develop food that matches that,” says Kavanagh.
Middle Eastern food – from Persian to Turkish to Lebanese – could be the next big thing in food, according to Kavanagh, as it has incredible flavours and offers a lot of dishes that are low in sugar or plant-based.
Vegan desserts and vegetables
Developing a range of refined-sugar-free, dairy-free vegan desserts has also been a success for Crussh.
Classic desserts are given a vegan twist, like taking a key lime pie and creating an avocado and lime pie on a cacao and walnut crumb, or making a banoffee pie that has a base made from dates and almond butter instead of biscuit.
“We wanted to make food that has nutritional value. The desserts are a treat and indulgent and rich, but not bad for you and not full of sugar,” says Kavanagh.
Long before vegan food became trendy, Crussh was doing it, comments Kavanagh. A review of its menu last year revealed a third of its dishes were already vegan. However, he prefers the term plant-based, as there are no negative connotations associated with this way of eating.
“One of our biggest selling products is the jackfruit tinga bowl, which is a 'five a day' in a dish. It has sweet potato mash, guacamole, jackfruit and mixed bean tinga and fresh slaw, so we do a lot of veg-heavy, nutrient heavy foods,” he says.
“We also do a lot of stuff aimed at people on specific diets. We sell bulletproof coffee and see a lot of interest in that. It’s an American trend, related to the keto diets. It’s a black Americano with grass-fed butter and MCT oil, which makes you feel fuller for longer and gets your body into a state of ketosis, so it’s good when working out. It’s a crazy sub culture over in America, which is pretty fascinating.”