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Freshii Is the Zara of Healthy Fast Foods

Founder and CEO Matthew Corrin tells the story behind the healthy fast-food brand at the NACS Insight Convenience Summit–Europe in London.
July 5, 2017

​By Fiona Briggs

LONDON – Recalling the early years of his career in the New York City fashion industry, Matthew Corrin, founder and CEO of Freshii, explained to attendees at the NACS Insight Convenience Summit–Europe that the Canadian restaurant brand is the Zara of healthy, fast foods. Interviewed by Ashley Dalziel, Freshii’s chief people officer, Corrin compared Freshii’s menu innovation—no one category makes up more than 18% of sales—with the global fashion giant.

“Every 70 days, Zara is bringing the latest fashion trends to the masses at affordable price points,” he said. “We go around the world and find local food concepts, that are popular, and then every 70 days bring that to our mass market. It’s done with a scalable supply chain and it keeps guests coming in. People don’t get bored of us because there is always something new.”

Freshii was founded by Corrin in 2005, when he was living in New York City and working for Oscar de la Renta, a high-end fashion designer. While he ate great food from local mom and pop delis, the service was dull and the branding lackluster. These experiences helped spawn the Freshii brand.

Fast track to today and Freshii, now listed on the Canadian stock exchange, operates more than 300 restaurants in 17 countries, with 150 new restaurants planned to open this year.

Corrin credits Freshii’s success and appeal to its placement at the intersection of three global trends: health and wellness; millennials, who are early adopters; and ownership, since it’s a franchise business model. “It’s that intersection that’s fueling our growth,” he says. Growth, which will also see the brand open its first U.K. outlets in London later this year. But it will be a Freshii format tailored to the U.K. market, as Corrin explains.

“When we open later this year in London, we will look different. It’s not a cookie cutter approach but about bringing health and wellness to the masses—we are not sending cucumbers and quinoa around the world,” he says.

Millennials shy away from cookie cutter, he maintains. Instead they prefer customization. “We deliberately try to make each store a little different and really do adapt our footprint to really localize and stay relevant,” Corrin says.

Corrin shared Freshii’s five founding principles with attendees:
1. Talk is cheap, execution sets you apart
2. Launch fast, fail fast and iterate faster
3. Numbers rule: if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it
4. Build a company with a killer culture, not a culture that kills your company
5. Pick your battles

It’s those principles and Freshii’s compelling offer that have seen the brand invited to operate in high schools, colleges, universities and at arenas. “But it’s a people business first and we never lose sight of that,” Corrin asserts.

So, could convenience stores take a slice of Freshii action? Corrin is not convinced. “Big companies recognize the importance of health and wellness but the challenge is becoming credible.”

But while growth is on the cards for Freshii, sticking to its principles and continuing to innovate, in that Zara-like fashion, are key driving forces. “Ten years ago, selling spinach and brown rice was innovative,” Corrin says. “Then it was smoothies and now it’s juices. It’s not about what you are building for today, it’s about what you are building for the next 10 years—you can’t become stale.”

This article has been printed with permission from Global C-Store Focus. Fiona Briggs Freelance retail business journalist and writes exclusive content for Global C-Store Focus. She also contributes regularly to NACS Magazine.