The digital era: Taster takes on Manchester

Anton Soulier, founder and CEO of Taster discusses the rise in digital brands, with particular focus on its most recent launch into Manchester, what customers can expect from the new offering, as well as future plans for the business.

Can you explain what Taster is?

Taster is a group of digital restaurant brands, inspired by street food and purpose built for delivery. As the first delivery-only food group to scale using a modern franchise model, we work with partners to operate Taster brands from their existing kitchens using our Taster tech suite.

We currently own and licence three digital brands in the UK, focusing on quality not quantity in our portfolio: Out Fry (Korean fried chicken), A Burgers (dirty vegan burgers) and Mission Saigon (traditional Vietnamese).

In a nutshell, Taster is redefining what it means to be a restaurant group in the 21st Century by combining strong digital brands, innovative technology and a model that works for restaurateurs and customers alike.

Explain your launch into Manchester?

Our recent arrival in Manchester marked our first launch outside of London. It felt like the best next home for Taster as we expand across the UK in 2022.

Manchester is a really exciting and dynamic foodie hub for both restaurant owners and consumers. Our launch partner there is already seeing promising volumes and is looking to launch more Taster brands in other locations.

We’ve also had very positive conversations with passionate restaurant owners in Manchester who are excited by the opportunity of digital brands. We’re looking forward to strengthening our footprint in more areas of the city.

Is the rise of digital brands here to stay?

It’s way too simplistic to say the huge shift in delivery habits is solely because of covid. Pre-pandemic, 52% of global consumers said they would happily order from a delivery only restaurant and up to 80% of 18-39 year olds were ordering food via an app at least once a week.

There are hundreds, even thousands, of brands on the delivery platforms like Deliveroo and UberEats. The best digital restaurants are those with truly dynamic and delicious offerings, that connect with customers in a creative way and focus on a quality food experience.

What sort of partners could consider virtual brands?

Think about a restaurant in London that sees quieter service at lunchtime but still pays full staff salaries, or a UK-wide hotel group with room service cover but only sporadic guest orders, or even a regional ice cream and dessert kitchen that experiences fluctuating seasonal sales. What do these have in common? They’re all examples of underutilised space and staff which could be channelled towards running a delivery operation, without distracting from the core business.

We’ve always preferred to focus on the profile of our partners rather than speed, so we work with a lot of tech-savvy partners with entrepreneurial mindsets. We’re not looking for restaurants that are struggling and looking to make a quick buck. Our partners are ambitious independent restaurant owners looking to be part of the UK delivery market long term – forecast to be worth a massive £9.8b by 2025.

For example, we’ve recently started working with a partner in Wembley who witnessed the local demographic completely change. Consumers in the area were becoming more adventurous with their takeaway choices and started looking for something more exciting than an average kebab or pizza. It’s a great partnership where our partner has expertise in the local area, which we can combine with our knowledge in running digital brands and a delivery operation.

As well as independent operators, we are also partnering strategically with bigger hospitality groups such as Gate Group and Accor Hotels, who run Taster brands across multiple sites.

Food delivery isn’t going anywhere, so the reality is that experienced restaurant operators who take advantage of innovation opportunities now will thrive in the long term.

What recent achievements have you made?

2021 was a huge year of growth for Taster and we’re certainly not slowing down this year.

We doubled the size of the business across six months and focused on our licensee model to scale – we currently have 150 digital restaurant brands in 27 cities across Europe.

To fuel our growth, we also raised £27m in our Series B investment round last year, making us one of the best-funded digital restaurant startups in Europe. This is something I am particularly proud of as it demonstrates the belief in our model and the future of digital brands.

Do you have any near-future plans?

Expansion is our top priority and our team is working hard to find new partners to bring into the Taster community. Following on from Manchester, we’re looking to launch taster digital brands in Leeds, Sheffield and Brighton in the coming weeks to reach 500 digital restaurants by the end of 2022 (over half being in the UK).

To support this growth, we are also expanding our team and hiring for 50 new positions in Q1 of this year.

We’re also always looking at ways we can innovate our brand portfolio, partnering with co-creators and authentic experts to boost the Taster platform. It’s not about a one off stunt or quick win, we want to develop long-term partnerships with quality food and a great end-to-end customer experience.

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