I’ve been reading Blue Ocean Strategy over the past week. I’ll write up my thoughts on the book in due course – I’ve not quite finished it yet.
Clara & I were throwing around the main premise of the book – about how to create Blue Ocean markets – and break away from the existing competition by compete in a market devoid of major competitors.
Festival Food Problems
Clara was explaining how Festival Food Retailers at major music festivals like Glastonbury work and how they’re characterised by:
- largely high quality
- low portion sizes
- high price (most dishes more than £5 )
- lots of choice per stall
- slow delivery / long queues
This is partly because the stalls must deal with some festival-specific considerations:
- limited onsite refrigeration space
- limited ability to resupply during the day
- large peaks in demand (eg rush for food when a band finishes)
- constantly ready / readily available food
A Blue Ocean?
This creates an environment that could be shaken up – just by not benchmarking oneself against the competition, and creating something that attracts people who might give a festival food stand a miss (and maybe just skip a meal!).
If one was thinking of shaking things up, you’d have to have a quality product. I’m not qualified to talk about this, but I suspect the problems in catering are not whether it’s possible to create mouthwatering food, but whether you can sell it for a profit.
An Orange Ocean!
I suggest an ultra-cutback, ultra-simple, no-frills, offering nothing but::
- A polystyrene cup of delicious Carrot (and Curried Apple/and Roast Parsnip/etc) Soup
- An “Artisan” Bread Roll in a paper napkin
- For £3
- Served as fast as possible
- With a Smile
In Blue Ocean Strategy’s [questionable] value diagrams style, you’d compare “The Carrot Soup Company”‘s offering with the Generic Festival Food Retailers like this:
In addition to the obvious changes in value to the customer – reducing price, increasing(?) portion sizes and increasing speed of deliver, you’re also able to cut backend costs:
- Your inventory is much narrower (Soup, Bread, Polystyrene Cups, Paper Napkins)
- You can make rolls & soup offsite (or purchase them from a third party!)
- You can store the soup in large ‘tea’ urns/vats, allowing for constantly ready, quickly dispensable food (and no other equipment)
One way that Generic Festival Food Retailers cut staffing costs is making use of part time workers who will work several shifts, and get to spend some spare time seeing the festival. My suspicion is that one might be able to provide a better experience to customers by seeking out the superstars of the fast food industry who are extremely adept at rapidly making personal connections with a smile for long shifts, and seeing whether they’re interested in moonlighting for significantly above average wages. This point is moot, as I suspect that great customer service isn’t necessary to make it a success, but in my mind, great customer service is one part of a great customer experience – no matter how simple the experience.
You’d want to be able to cope with peaks in demand where the team could serve 100 customers in 10 minutes – that’s a customer every 6 seconds, and so you’d want to be able to work with your team to be able to specialise roles (collect £3, give orange ticket/collect orange ticket, give soup/give roll & shoe them away from the stall to avoid traffic jams) but them adapt if someone needed to step away to refill the soup urn, etc. My feeling is that you’re more likely to get this level of reliability from a close-knit paid team with experience and the right mindset.
A neat marketing thing you could do is make all your polystyrene cups very distinctive – maybe a distinctive bright orange (carrot!) colour? When your customers are walking around the festival, people may wonder – “what’s in those orange cups?” and then if/when they link them to your Carrot Soup Company stand, every time they see one, it’ll be a trigger for your brand.
A more traditional marketing thing you could do, if you proved the previous idea worked as intended, would be to do a twitter giveaway just as a major act was finishing – so the mass of people walk into the food area, to see a preseeded diminishing queue of people, and nearby people with orange cups.
It’s also worth pointing out that your product could probably be Vegan, Vegetarian, Halal, Kosher, nut-free etc with relative ease. Advertising this clearly would reduce questions (time-consuming) and objections (costs you a customer).
You’d have to sell a lot of soup. But not an unrealistic amount.
Glastonbury festival has 135,000 attendees, and a small, off-the-mainstream patch might cost ~£2-3k (and a better location, many times that – maybe ~£32k!)
But let’s suggest you start small, and after a successful MVP at a country fair or car boot sale, you try a small festival of ~10,000 attendees where I’d guess a catering pitch might be got for ~£750.
Your breakeven point on materials would probably be around 300 units? Not unachievable I’d say, with the right product fit.
Why is this online? Why don’t you do this?
- I don’t know anything about catering
- I don’t want to know anything about catering
- Crowds are not my natural environment
- Maybe someone I know, likes the idea of this
- I reckon the net returns over 3 years are only something like £50k-75k
- I reckon returns will drop off in the 3rd year as other traders emulate you
- Opportunity cost – if Clara & I thought this up in 10 minutes, imagine what an hour would bring!
- It’s fun to throw ideas around – sharing is caring!