A recent lunchtime trip to Itsu
had my snapping and noting away furiously, as it struck me as a great example of bringing a big brand idea to life in everything you do. This healthy fast food chain was started by the genuis behind Pret a Manger, Julian Metcalfe. It recently reported
turnover up 23% to £55.5 million and EBITDA up 68% to £5.3 million in the year to 3 January 2014.
1. Big brand idea
I love Itsu's brand idea which it "Eat Beautiful". Its simple, memorable and distinctive. When you think about having a quick lunch, the word "beautiful" is not one that come to mind. Itsu rides the wave of healthier eating but, like all great brands, it "breaks a trade-off" by helping you do this in a way which is tasty, enjoyable and almost glamorous
2. Distinctiveness on steroids
Itsu brings to life the "Eat Beautiful" idea in everything it does, creating a highly distinctive experience.
Product: the food itself is Asian inspired but with a contemporary twist. A sample from their website: "Protein packed, low carbohydrate salads, hearty & low fat chicken noodle soups, fields of crunchy vegetables, delicious hot brown rice potsu & ‘on a beds’… from 180 calories with just 1.3 grams of fat; almost entirely dairy, wheat, fat & mayonnaise free. Even our drinks are low sugar."
– Stores: the identity of the stores themselves is distinctive, with an airy, bright and contemporary feel
– Language: everything Itsu writes, from menus to the website, has a light-hearted, elegant tone to it. Check out how they talk about healthy eating: "Butterfly light, wonderful flavours, green and good, no more gloom & gloop for you."
– Visual: the brand uses cool, stylised black and white imagery of male and female models; a tongue-in-cheek way to say. "Eat beautiful, look beautiful". In a trick learnt from Pret, every bit of the brand is used to communicate the brand idea, including trays and drink containers.
Activation: Itsu use a distinctive promotional tool that founder Julian picked up in Japan: the 1/2 price sale. For the last 1/2 hour before closing, everything is half price. This is smart for two reasons. One, it give a reason to visit the store at a time when its probably not that busy. And second, it reduces wastage. As the food is fresh, it would be thrown away anyway.
3. Stamina/Learn by doing
Itsu has become famous in the last few years. What many people don't know is that the brand was actually created in 1997, whilst Julian Metcalfe was still working at Pret. That's a full 17 years ago. This goes to show that a key success factor for any new business is stamina.
The other interesting thing about this time-frame is the way Julian and the team learnt by doing. The chain started life as a restaurant in Chelsea, followed by another in Soho. Here is how Julian describes what happened next:
"Soho's hectic lunch crowd encouraged us to develop take away boxes. The demand was so incredible it inspired our first take away only store in Vogue House, then we were off!" Creating light, nutritious and healthy dishes which actually taste delicious is far harder than it sounds. itsu is making good headway as a result of years of recipe development, trial and error."
In conclusion, hats off to Julian and the Itsu team for creating and beautifully executing a big brand idea, and having the stamina to make this a success through 17 years of hard work.