Belgian healthy fast food chain Exki has bounced back after the Covid crisis. The pandemic has taken a nasty toll, but Exki is again looking ahead and trying to stay close to its customers with innovations like connected fridges, marketing and innovation director David Esseryk told RetailDetail during an interview.
France is back on track
Obviously, a restaurant chain like Exki could not escape the compulsory closures and all sorts of restrictions that governments all over the world enforced in the fight against Covid. In France, in particular, things got very tense: Exki even had to ask for protection from its creditors.
That stage is now completely behind us, Esseryk assures us: "We managed to map out a reorganisation plan with the creditors' support", he says. "It allows us to pay off our debts without endangering the future of the company or our employees. This plan was backed by all creditors and approved by the Paris commercial court last summer. Today we are fully on track with the repayment plan."
There is light at the end of the tunnel, but, for now, Exki has not yet exited that tunnel. "Our sales figures this year are still below 2019 levels, but we expect them to improve further in the coming weeks and months. We hope to return to 2019 levels by 2022", Esseryk says.
Relevance in a saturated market
However, this is no easy task. When Exki was founded twenty years ago, it was a pioneer in offering a healthy alternative to fast food. Since then, however, the market has become more saturated. Is Exki still relevant enough? "We are convinced that over those twenty years, we have built up unparalleled expertise in offering healthy and tasty food on a large scale", Esseryk emphasises. "We are making a difference by offering high-quality, fresh products and certified quality ingredients."
"Moreover, we are constantly innovating to remain relevant to our customers", Esseryk continues. "We do this by continuously improving the user experience, with obvious things such as new recipes, but also by offering deliveries and the installation of smart refrigerators at our corporate customers."
No plans for expansion into new markets
For now, there are no plans to bring these innovations to new markets - Exki is currently present in six countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. "Of course, new restaurants will be added, and we will continue to develop and expand the new channels", says Esseryk, "but for the moment, we mainly want to strengthen our presence in the markets in which we are already active today."
Restaurants too, even though concepts such as takeaway and delivery took off thanks to Covid - a trend which, incidentally, does not seem to be fading away rapidly even during post-Covid times, as the figures of Deliveroo recently showed. "Traditional restaurants will remain relevant", Esseryk asserts. "But they will, certainly, be combined with the new channels mentioned earlier. And, of course, we are open to new formats. We remain attentive to the changes in customer needs so that we can respond to them with new ideas and concepts."