Originating in Australia but with roots in the UK for more than 20 years, Muffin Break has established itself as a permanent fixture on the grab-and-go scene. But what does the chain’s growth strategy look like and what sort of approach does it take to kitchen specification? FEJ brings you 10 things you never knew about the popular baked goods chain.
1. There are 60 Muffin Breaks in the UK
Muffin Break has been operating in the UK for the best part of two decades and in that time it has based its growth on franchising. Only two of its shops are company-owned: in Bury St Edmunds and Birmingham Grand Central, the latter of which marked its first foray into a transport hub. The other 58 are all run by franchisees.
2. The chain is expanding beyond shopping malls
You will predominately find Muffin Break in shopping malls and that has largely been the cornerstone of its growth strategy for many years. While that will remain the case going forward, it is actively seeking to expand its horizons. “We opened a high street store in Southend in December last year and that is doing fantastically well,” says marketing manager, Gemma Sandells. “We are looking at more stores like that within market towns as well as more transports hubs.”
3. Its footprint in the UK is increasing
It might not be present in central London, but Muffin Break boasts a good spread of sites around the UK, from Eastbourne on the south coast all the way up to Aberdeen in Scotland. It will also open a store in Inverness this year, while more recently it has expanded in the Midlands. “We’re not like a Costa or Starbucks where nobody is ever there more than five miles from a local store, but we are gradually increasing our geographical footprint across the UK and we will look to secure sites and areas where we don’t feel we have enough coverage at the moment to really increase brand awareness as well as to grow.”
4. Kitchens are central to site design
Muffin Break’s store set-up offers plenty of scope for flexibility, but the suitability of a location all boils down to being able to accommodate the kitchen. Says Sandells: “We always have to have a kitchen on site as we bake fresh every morning and all our muffins, as well as our cakes, pies and gourmet tartlets, are made from scratch every day. It is what differentiates us from some of the other competitors in the market. The only thing we don’t do in-store is bake our own brand, so we buy in handmade ciabattas.” Muffin Break doesn’t operate any central production kitchens, but Sandells says that the chain can run satellite stores to offer complete flexibility to landlords. “In Welwyn Garden City, for example, we have got a kitchen in our main store that feeds a satellite store downstairs, so we can adapt to suit the landlords’ requirements,” she explains.
We have worked with key suppliers such as Nisbets, Winterhalter and Blue Seal for a while, so the process is relatively smooth”
5. Preferred equipment suppliers create a turnkey solution
When it comes to the kitchen set-up, Muffin Break has developed a core template based around trusted providers of catering equipment. Sandells comments: “We work with key suppliers such as Nisbets, Winterhalter, Blue Seal and La Spaziale, who we get our coffee machines from. We have worked with the same people for a while, so the process now is relatively smooth. New franchisees get lots of help and we can offer a full turnkey solution. We have a model and we know it works.”
6. Manager-to-store ratio is one of the best
Muffin Break employs a series of franchise business managers, who each look after between one and eight stores. “The ratio of managers to stores is very low, so each franchise business manager is able to keep in regular contact with each store and provide support,” says Sandells. “Everybody here is available morning, evening and at weekends. In the retail sector business doesn’t stop.”
7. There are more than 220 flavours in its core product line
With more than 220 muffin flavours, and around 400 different food items in total, Muffin Break is proof that you can create a varied offering from a single core product line. While you’ll find classic favourites such as chocolate chip and blueberry in every store, franchisees adapt their product range to suit their own market. “We offer gluten-free ranges, dairy-free ranges, premium ranges and we have just launched Muffin Lab, which is all part of our new product development,” says Sandells. Muffin Lab is an initiative that sees “experimental and extraordinary” flavours introduced in stores each month. It kicked off last month with the ‘Duffin’, a mix between a muffin and a donut.
8. Its breakfast menu is being enlarged
The business model might have been founded on muffins, but the chain has just launched an expanded breakfast offering. The range will include smoothies, bacon and egg rolls and breakfast burritos, with everything made fresh on site by its team of trained bakers. “We have got a really strong lunch and afternoon trade already in almost all our stores, but this will help to increase our breakfast range,” says Sandells. “Rather than going into competition with everybody else by offering the same items, we have launched some exciting new things that are on-trend.”
9. Forecasting is a challenge for all franchisees
One of the challenges for all stores is predicting demand. Muffin Break tracks the national average of sales per product line, however data will vary on a store-by-store basis. “The stores will obviously know what they will sell on a day-to-day basis and whether they will bake more at the weekends or during certain seasons of the year. And if we have got a campaign running with direct point of sale in store they know they are going to sell more of those items,” says Sandells.
10. Wastage comes with the territory
Wastage is a big issue for all foodservice firms, but for a business like Muffin Break, where food is freshly prepared each day, there will inevitably be a surplus when trading finishes. “We always make sure that the muffin cabinets are fully stocked because we don’t want people to walk into a Muffin Break and find there are no muffins. There still needs to be choice when customers walk in at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. We have to accept there is going to be wastage every day. I would say that approximately two dozen muffins would be thrown out at the end of each day for each store.”