Crussh may be synonymous with juices and smoothies, but the London-centric chain has always served food to complement its innovative drinks menu since it first launched. Hot food-to-go is one of the biggest current food trends and, on the back of the successful launch of a line-up of soups, hot pots and ‘Fit Eggs’, FEJ learns how it plans to step its offering further with the support of a British catering equipment manufacturer.
Juice and smoothie bars might feel like a modern phenomenon but Crussh opened its first store on central London’s Cornhill way back in 1998. Nearly two decades on there are 26 outlets across the capital and the company has made a name for itself as an aficionado of healthy, nutritious, freshly pressed juices and smoothies blended to order.
While Crussh is perhaps best known for its refreshing beverages, the operator has always prided itself on its healthy fast food offering, from porridge bowls to signature healthpots, zero noodles and sandwiches and desserts, all handmade in Crussh’s own kitchens on a daily basis.
Rebranding to ‘Crussh Fit Food’ in 2014 to re-emphasise its food offering, the chain started looking at new opportunities in food-to-go. Given the food-to-go market is growing at 5% year-on-year, and accounts for a quarter of all British eating-out spend, operations director, Nick Nathan, acknowledges that diversification was a logical step. “Hot food-to-go, in particular, has exploded in the last couple of years,” he says. “As a constant innovator and leader of healthy food trends, we wanted to tap into this with even more stand-out concepts that would also maximise on growing meal occasions throughout the day.”
Crussh’s hot food-to-go offering got off the ground with a line-up of classic soups such as leek and potato and broccoli and cheese through to gourmet soups such as Louisiana chicken gumbo and Portuguese caldo verde super soup, as well as organic options including Moroccan tomato.
This was followed by a selection of hot pots, from chipotle chicken and black beans stew with baby spinach, brown and red rice mix through to butternut and spinach coconut curry with baby spinach, brown and red rice mix. These are complemented by EnerGi pots, including beef red chilli with spelt, brazilian pulled pork and black beans with pearl cous cous and mushroom and bacon barley risotto.
With breakfast increasingly being bought and consumed in transit, and one in six now eating the ‘most important meal of the day’ at their desk, Crussh launched a hot, scrambled egg pot concept which consumers could quickly and easily purchase straight from a hot display cabinet.
The challenge for any operator is how to store and present hot products to meet the demands of peak trading for hours on end without impacting on quality. In Crussh’s case, finding a unit that would keep everything from the soups and hotpots to the egg pots in the Fit Eggs range in optimum condition for the full breakfast and lunch service became its core focus.
The answer to its dilemma came in the form of The Alan Nuttall Partnership, manufacturer of the Flexeserve Zone solution and a supplier of shop-fitting services and merchandising equipment to chains such as Pret A Manger, Costa, Greggs, Dunkin’ Donuts and Pizza Hut, as well as Asda and Wyevale Garden Centre.
The equipment offers exactly the right functionality and flexibility to enable us to serve a fantastic product, and because of the quality we can achieve we are now looking to include more soups, stews and egg pot varieties”
The Birmingham-based outfit produces a heated display that gives operators the opportunity to provide self-serve merchandising solutions in one cabinet, from a breakfast offer including porridge, bacon rolls, toasties and croissants to a hot lunch offer, from paninis and hearty soups to warm desserts.
The multi-zoned heated display has three or four individually-operated thermal zones with their own temperature controls. The patented technology uses hot air convection or surface conduction, which can be configured by the operator to maximise food quality and display times. Plans are afoot to develop a five-tier unit.
Having flexible zone efficiencies saves money as operators only need to use power when and where it is required. The unit incorporates LED lighting to reduce utility costs, which can be turned on or off, using only the power required at the time of merchandising according to footfall.
Warwick Wakefield, lead development chef at Nuttall’s Foodservice Innovation Centre, says energy saving was a priority for Crussh, but extended holding time and increased product quality were the biggest selling points.
“With the Fit Eggs, for example, you are talking about a tricky and delicate product which can easily dry out and become unpalatable,” he explains. “Crussh also wanted to introduce different varieties using diverse and innovative ingredients, which had to be factored in, as did the packaging.”
Crucially, the high standard of the range is maintained for up to four hours in optimum condition in the Flexeserve Zone, which is now installed in the majority of Crussh’s 26 sites, and enables the operator to tap into the lucrative breakfast and brunch on-the-go market and then easily reconfigure the units for its lunchtime on-the-go offering.
“The Zone offers exactly the right functionality and flexibility to enable us to serve a fantastic product, and because of the quality we can achieve we are now looking to include more soups, stews and egg pot varieties and are also launching a hot chicken salad this summer,” says Nathan. “The Zones are also in our bespoke colours to complement our sites, all adding extra visual impact.”
Warwick concludes: “The holding equipment you choose can make a huge difference to a hot food-to-go offer, dramatically affecting a product’s taste, texture and overall palatability. Our Flexeserve Zone is transforming this rapidly-expanding market and changing expectations for the better.”