‘The UK is at the cutting edge of food innovation – and we are a part of that’

Food & Drink | Growth | Reports

The food industry is in the midst of a burger revolution, with different brands and restaurants changing the image of the sector. And one of the companies that is part of this is Five Guys UK.

Founded in 2013, Five Guys UK has evolved from its original American company (of the same name) to become its own business – and one of the fastest growing in the country.

The CEO John Eckbert and Sir Charles Dunstone (founder of Carphone Warehouse) helped transition the joint venture between the original American company, founded in 1986, to a new UK company.

Over the last six years, Five Guys UK has seen its revenue increase from £3.6m a year in 2013, to £23.8m in 2014, £63.3m in 2015, £86.2m in 2016, £122m in 2017, and last year they reported figures of £149.5m.

Over the same period they have grown from three restaurants to over 90 – with more on the way. The company also recently expanded into mainland Europe, with their French, German and Spanish businesses reporting combined revenues of £57.7m in 2018.

An American revolution

When you think of an American food staple, burger and fries are right at the top of the list of the national cuisine.

So, how does a company in this industry leap ahead of the competition? Family values, it seems, are part of the answer.

The original 1980s Five Guys was started out in Virginia, USA, by the Murrell family, and the name originated from the five boys, or ‘Five Guys’, of Jerry and Janie Murrell.

They were built on the principle that they would use a simple menu of fresh produce cooked in plain sight of the customer.

CEO John Eckbert explains: “If you were going to cook a burger for your mum for a Sunday barbeque, what would you do? How would you prepare and cook it? So, the first thing is to have the absolute highest quality of ingredients that you can find, and the company has never deviated from that. And to this day the family meets every Tuesday in Virginia to talk about the business. No matter where Five Guys restaurants are in the world, the Murrell’s passion for burgers and fries stays true to everything that goes on.”

Through these values, the company has grown to over 1600 restaurants in over 20 countries around the world.

British burger boom

In 2011, the Murrell family thought about moving out of America, and at that time, Eckbert and Dunstone were looking at bringing a food and drink brand to the UK.

Five Guys UK was the perfect blend of the Murrell’s standing within the burger community and the local knowledge to bring the business into the UK.

Following the joint venture between the Murrells, Dunstone and Eckbert, Five Guys UK made its first appearance at a restaurant in Covent Garden on the 4th July 2013.

Eckbert comments: “There was a great sense that Five Guys had a brand that could work well outside of America. If there is something that America is known for globally, burgers are one of their spears of excellence. There has also been a long and successful commercial relationship between brands expanding from America into the UK.

“The very first site in the UK, as is tradition, had no advertising about the opening. All the Murrells were here to witness the first order in the UK, and we were worried no one was going to come!

“Jerry Murrell was completely calm and unconcerned. He loved the location, was impressed with the crew and knew we had done the work with the supply chain.

“As it turns out, the first customer turned up at 4am, and we had a queue around the block before we had even opened. The Five Guys reputation had already spread across the world as a burger phenomenon. The UK is at the cutting edge of food innovation – and we are a part of that.”

What sets Five Guys apart in a crowded market?

Whereas many chain restaurants rely on marketing campaigns with huge budgets to get their products in the public’s eye, Five Guys do not do advertising and rely on word of mouth. This puts huge pressure on them to constantly deliver the best meal possible.

Eckbert explains: “Our entire business strategy is dependent upon the customer having a bite of our burger and fries and saying – that’s amazing! This word of mouth is the key to who we are and to our growth as a business. We are entirely dependent on our customers being blown away by the quality and bringing their friends back with them.

“Burgers have often been labelled as the fast-food, mass produced, low quality food substitute, rather than a quality meal. But Five Guys burgers are different.

“The beef is grain fed and is left to mature for 120 days – this creates a critical difference in the quality of the meat. For example, less than 1% of UK meat would qualify for Five Guys meat.”

Property problems

Despite rave reviews and exponential growth, the company has had to overcome some serious challenges.

America is known for its sprawling cities, with plenty of space to expand into – something the UK is not blessed with.

Eckbert comments: “Finding prime real estate is a huge problem across the UK, especially in London. This was tough for us, as we were a start-up company with no financial history. We picked some real prime real estate sites to land the brand, both in the UK and in Europe. The issue was that these locations obviously came at a premium price, which is also tough when you are just starting out.”

Is veganism a threat?

One of the biggest trends within the food industry in recent years has been the rise of veganism and a move away from meat-based products. But, is it going to impact on their impressive growth?

Eckbert comments: “The burger is not at risk of going away. It is a great product that is popular the world over. There will be a sustained interest in vegan and vegetarian options and there will be a growth in the plant-based meat options.

“However, the Murrell family is currently looking into vegan options, and will decide whether Five Guys gets involved in it in the future.

“We will always be a beef burger concept, but if we can find the right concept to introduce a plant-based product, then we would love to give our customers that option.”

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