Jones the Grocer’s CEO on why airport locations are taking off

Yunib Siddiqui reveals how the brand is capitalising on the opportunities of high-traffic international hubs

Casual dining restaurant and deli Jones the Grocer, has opened its latest airside location, at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed International Airport.

Openings in Changi and Heathrow airports are also in the pipeline for Jones the Grocer, as CEO Yunib Siddiqu told Caterer ME about what’s spurring this move into the travel retail business and how the brand is navigating the complex landscape of airport F&B.

Siddiqui shared how the brand is adapting their operations and strategies to meet the challenges and capitalise on the opportunities of high-traffic international hubs.

The growth strategy

The brand’s strategic move to expand into high-traffic airport locations such as Abu Dhabi, Changi, and Heathrow, according to the CEO, aligns with the company’s robust growth strategy and leverages the success they have already experienced in modular and adaptable store formats in travel spaces.

“The reason for the expansion is that we’ve just been very, very successful in the travel space,” he stated. “This success is largely due to our modular design philosophy, which allows elements of their larger stores to be adapted effectively to fit various airport sites. Our stores… are designed in such a way that we can lift elements of that store and put it in different sites.”

According to the CEO, expanding into airport locations is a natural progression of Jones the Grocer’s growth strategy. There are, however, inherent challenges, given the tender process in these environments. “All the airport sites are tender-based, and there’s no guarantee of winning,” he noted. “You end up competing against big international brands like Starbucks, Costa and so on, and there’s no guarantee of winning.”

Logistical and operational complexities

Airports introduce unique operational challenges compared to traditional retail settings, primarily due to the 24/7 nature of business and the high customer turnover.

Siddiqui said: “Before we have even won the tender, we’ve got to think about the design, operational capability, etc and submit it to the airport which the airport then scores aside, reviewing the technical as well as financial aspects of it. And based on a scorecard system, they line up and then decide which brand they want to go with.”

Then the round-the-clock nature of hotels in the Middle East means staffing can also be a challenge.

“When we’re running at peak, we’re serving about one customer every five to six minutes,” he explained. “Also, getting airport passes, CID clearances, and dealing with long approval times can impact our ability to open and operate smoothly.”

Maintaining brand identity and quality

The diverse clientele of airports significantly influences how Jones the Grocer tailors its menu and service offerings. Siddiqui stressed on the necessity for quick service options, particularly in their grab-and-go sections, to cater to the swift pace of airport hubs.

Alongside the strategic response to meet the needs of travellers looking for quality food quickly, he said that maintaining a consistent brand identity and high-quality standards across various international locations, particularly in high-traffic airports, is critical. He revealed the continuous process of standardising recipes and simplifying training materials to ensure uniform quality. “We’re continuously reworking our recipes to make them simpler and easier to follow for chefs who may not speak English well to ensure that brand standards are maintained no matter the location,” Siddiqui shared.

Location and future growth plans

The strategic location within the airport is crucial for the success of each outlet, says the CEO, expounding on the importance of gate proximity and passenger traffic patterns in influencing the outlet’s performance.

Looking ahead, the brand has sights set on further regional and international expansion. “We have a number of sites opening, and discussions underway in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Morocco,” he shared.

The plan is to expand into new markets and enhance presence in existing ones. These expansions are part of a larger strategy to integrate more airport outlets into the portfolio, leveraging their success in these high-revenue locations which, according to Siddiqui, brings with it a risk-reward ratio.

He said: “The rent of the airport is super high, given the airport guarantee and the fact that revenue is high too alongside the higher fixed costs that come with it. Outside the airport, we have a few venues that perform equally well but airport sites tend to do much higher revenue because there’s much higher traffic. If done right, you do get a significant spike in revenue from these airport sites.”

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