Protect culinary excellence.
The quality and integrity of our food is top priority – we design everything around it. When you expand to our current volumes, you can’t do it from small, 6,000ft2 facilities. It requires a new footprint with 30,000ft2 facilities. Protecting culinary excellence starts with the design of the facility itself. We’re a start-up and resourceful, so we may not have the means to design a site from scratch, but instead we will look for a second-tier facility that’s been occupied as a working kitchen in the past. From there, we’ll invest a nominal amount to bring it up to our culinary needs and standards.
The number one thing we look for in any facility is the hot kitchen. The largest square footage we have is allocated to that. In other food businesses, the kitchens are in the dungeons, but not in ours – it’s front and center.
Empower the right people
When we recruit, we spend a substantial amount of time on training. We’re almost breaking down the original mold. When chefs join us, we re-train them to take what they know now but add a healthy twist to it: “This is how you were taught to make a brown demi-glace sauce in the past – but this is how you make it healthy here.”
It’s vital to have a strong Executive Chef in all our kitchens, and the Executive Chef knows they lead the team in all regards when it comes to food quality.
When it comes to Lean principles – we’re not putting in Kaizens around the hot kitchen. There’s only one principle we follow – which we call “no knives in the hot kitchen” and that blows chefs’ minds. Basically, we don’t want chefs chopping onions – we deliver everything just in time, so they’ve got the time to cook. That’s what we want chefs to do in the kitchen – cook. We work tirelessly to promote those principles that will protect them.
Sustainable relationships in the supply chain
From procurement through manufacturing, we bring in partners that are creative. We work with local partners that are also fast to market. We want partners that know what we’re trying to achieve and believe in all that we stand for.
We still have to be careful to manage the supply chain – we have a great basket of goods, but we don’t go crazy. If we put five new things on the menu, we take five out. Balance is key so that we don’t lose control of the basket of the goods.
We need to understand they can cope with scale in food manufacturing, so we audit, and give them some tests to understand if they can meet our expectations. For example, bison is very rare – one day’s beef production in the US is the same as one year of bison, but our number-one selling meal is made with bison. Where we’re developing is with wholesale partners who can help us with scale and price. If a wholesaler asks us to change ingredients, we won’t compromise.
Strategise, but react to opportunities
Our strategy was always to grow our retail market – that’s been clear from day one. With wholesale, we had a toe in the water doing a small-scale test with Whole Foods Market in six locations.
Then with the last round of funding, we diverted away from the typical financial funding with long-range investors. Wholesalers approached us and that took us down the road we are on now. We’re still raising the same level of funding, but it’s through mutually beneficial partnerships, where the investment means those partners have a seat on the board.
The link between brand and operational excellence
The correlation between back of house and brand is so important. If you go into any of our shops, everyone understands and appreciates food. We produce food excellence, but with a commitment to operational excellence standards and following Lean principles.
However, we don’t get into the robotic mentality of running a factory. We gain efficiency through running meals down conveyor belts and quick changeovers, but we don’t try to gain efficiency in the hot kitchen. We don’t ever want a chef feeling rushed. I don’t want the chef cooking our bison quinoa hash to feel that the robotics of Lean principles are putting pressure on the food. But once it’s chilled and goes onto assembly manufacturing, we assemble at the fastest rate, where we gain efficiency.
Spend time adding value
If I recruit you in manufacturing, even in headquarters, I want 70% of your time on the manufacturing operational side. Emails, meetings and calls take up a very limited amount of time for the team.
It’s the same for me. I recently spent time at the factory that’s helping to develop conveyor belts for us. I was literally working side-by-side with their team on the design – even though it’s not my company. Then I came back to our central production kitchen to educate the team as to what’s upcoming in those manufacturing for quick-change principles. My VPs know that I will be in the market, I will be in the business.
Internalise culture from top to bottom
In organizations around the world, you’ll meet the CEO and they are truly inspiring. You think “I’d love to work for that company.” Then you get down to the second level of the team and you find good guys, but perhaps not as inspirational as the person at the top. Then go down four levels to the team on the floor and you can’t feel any of it because it’s never reached the business. The vision and the dream from the top is very true, they believe it, but how do you get it down through the business?
We don’t have multiple layers of management, but every team member believes in our mission and what we stand for – that’s the whole company, including our board. One of our investors eats in his local Dallas shop daily and reports back to us – that’s the level of commitment we have throughout the company.
I teach people that we don’t make money at headquarters
Everybody understands that their job at headquarters is to support our teams in the field. And everybody in the shops, front of house, knows their job is to take care of the customer. You have to understand that by being in your business, I never want them to think: “Here comes the boss…he’s going to walk the floor for 10 minutes and then he’s gone.”
I spend valuable time doing kaizens with the team. I get involved in those decisions. I taste the food every time I visit a shop and take pictures to send back to the production facilities. I provide instant feedback, and that’s what our senior leadership does.
We had the vision of developing our digital strategy at the outset. Our CEO Dave Kirchhoff came from Weight Watchers and was fully committed to that route. We recruited a full digital team to deliver everything ourselves. We designed our app ourselves – we didn’t outsource – we truly built a start-up within a start-up. Our digital platform is an impressive tool and we’ve seen tremendous sales uplift through digital – far bigger than we expected.
When you have the digital infrastructure, you’ve got access to the customer interface immediately. Whether it’s a compliment or a complaint, the customer can talk to the general manager of the retail shop, or they go online to place a review. We can also do tests on new products to get feedback. With 60-65% of our customers as repeat customers, that interface allows us to bring new products to market rapidly.
Speed to market and agile product development
Our cycle time for launching new products is eight weeks, and it’s only eight weeks because that’s how long it takes the labels to get through the USDA.
When I worked in the airline industry, you’d work for a year on a new menu launch and take 18 months to get them into the process. At Snap Kitchen, every eight weeks we’re launching between five and 10 new products.
Our cycle time for design, development and launch is so rapid because our whole team is aligned. It’s a fast cycle time and you don’t have to go through 20 layers of approval. We go to the table in the warehouse next door, conduct tastings, recommend some tweaks, maybe three in all, then say that’s it, let’s go, and we go live shortly after.