A Presentation to the Management of Oliver’s Real Foods
Last Friday I sent this presentation to Investor Relations at Oliver’s Real Foods with a request that it be brought to the attention of senior management. I wanted to give Oliver’s some advance warning and give them the opportunity to comment or correct me, if they chose. I did not receive a response from Oliver’s, so I have published the presentation. (Oliver’s has subsequently advised me that they had read the presentation.)
Here it is:
I am writing an open letter to Oliver’s Real Foods (ASX: OLI) to make some suggestions for several simple ways in which I think the company could improve its offering.
The short version:
It is my belief that:
- Oliver’s can improve the quality and commercial productivity of its social media several-fold via a change in social media strategy and a more directly commercial focus.
- Oliver’s should develop a brand voice, which I think will contribute to the productivity of the social media accounts and responsivity of viewers.
- Once social media is sharpened up, Oliver’s should begin running very modest promotional campaigns on Twitter and Facebook, evaluate the response, and use these to inform its future marketing and promotion.
- Oliver’s has several opportunities to improve per-customer spend via upselling, creating food ‘combos’, as well via promotion and growing customer familiarity with the products (e.g. via social media).
- The promotions and social media should feed off each other, helping generate extra interest in the Oliver’s business.
The long version – Social Media:
I have mentioned previously that I am somewhat concerned about the Oliver’s Real Foods (ASX: OLI) social media accounts. There are a few issues with responses to reviews that I highlight in that linked post, but overall I think the company could use its social media accounts much more effectively.
I’m going to focus on a couple of recent posts here. I know that they are not representative of every post Oliver’s has ever made, but the problems with them highlight some weaknesses in Oliver’s social media strategy that I think should be fairly straightforward to improve.
For example, consider this post (which has since been deleted):
And this one:
Here is a general overview of Oliver’s recent tweets (as of ~16 April, when I began writing this piece):
I have four key criticisms. I believe that:
- The first two posts are a) manipulative and b) set up a combative us-vs-them dichotomy (meat eaters / non meat eaters for e.g.). I have a sense of humour, but it’s not hard to imagine a customer looking at that and saying “hey who is Oliver’s to tell me that I should be a vegetarian?” Given that carnivores are >90% of prospective customers, Olivers has to be cautious here – note the customer comment on the meat eating post. Anyone that’s worked in retail will tell you truthfully that customers are
arseholesprone to actively seeking out reasons to become offended. As a result, it is risky for any brand to stick its head above the parapet with these types of posts. Afterpay was stung by public backlash to a similar thing recently.
- Oliver’s risks alienating customers. Last I checked Oliver’s sells chicken dishes, and the vast majority of the population still eats meat, so why is Oliver’s posting anti-meat eating propaganda? Oliver’s services highway rest stops and must cater to a wide range of potential customers in this niche. Perhaps Oliver’s has data on differences in spending habits (e.g. vegetarians might spend more) in which case it would make sense to market to vegetarians, but this is not marketing.
- Oliver’s is missing a significant opportunity to promote its products and brands. Recently I have not seen a single recommendation for an Oliver’s product/ meal on Twitter (see the third image above) . For e.g. this would be a natural pairing with some of the pro vegetarian posts. Oliver’s Facebook account is higher quality and does promote some products (FB being a more populous platform also) but I think there is a dearth of product promotion on there too.
- Oliver’s mission statement/ purpose is “To empower our customers to live a healthier and happier life.” It is my view that these tweets (among others) are not consistent with the mission statement because they a) are alienating customers (meat eaters/ fluoride drinkers), and b) are not empowering. The above meat/fluoride posts are propaganda, not a peer reviewed scientific publication or equivalent responsible – balanced – media article that might let a reader educate themselves. I would prefer to see Oliver’s share information from primary sources. I know that management have already put a stop to antivax comments, and I would like to see them place a similar moratorium on these anti-fluoride / anti-meat posts also.
Facebook posts are harder to present in this blog because of their larger size, but here is a summary of Oliver’s recent posts as of 5 May 2018, with a tick representing whether my view on whether that post could generate a direct commercial benefit for Oliver’s:
- Oliver’s Shepparton now open ✔
- Oliver’s CEO Madigan meeting Shepparton Council
- Oliver’s Shepparton now open ✔
- Updated cover photo showing OLI moveable feast (I think)
- Are you a bean lover? (marketing Oliver’s fresh green beans) ✔
- Pic of new Oliver’s bumper stickers
- Pic of ladies from Oliver’s Real Food cycling team
- Video of construction of Oliver’s Coomera
- Oliver’s bumper stickers
- Oliver’s greek Yoghurt ad ✔
- Sharing a positive review
- Sharing a positive review
- Sharing a positive review
- Oliver’s Shepparton team in training
- Oliver’s Shepparton under construction
Facebook is definitely better than the Twitter feed, but there is an overall lack of posts that could lead to a commercial benefit for Oliver’s. I don’t want to seem too critical as I felt that a lot of the posts like the bumper stickers, the cycling team, and the positive reviews, were on-brand and enjoyable even if not directly commercial. Still, I think there are missed opportunities to convey product or brand information to Oliver’s customers. There are also opportunities to sharpen up the customer-facing voice a little:
I am concerned that Oliver’s is potentially alienating its customers. Oliver’s has a growing brand, its stores are gorgeous, and it risks damaging its strong initial impression with some of its social media activity. The social media accounts are a major part of the ‘face’ of the company. This face needs to be selected and curated carefully.
With regards to the lack of product advertising on social media, compare Oliver’s accounts to Subway and KFC. The Subway Australia Twitter is seemingly dormant since mid 2017 (previously it was more like Oliver’s than like KFC) but even it contained advertisements for its products. Here is Subway USA:
Here’s KFC Australia:
Oliver’s doesn’t need to be like Subway or KFC – it just needs to use its social media more effectively, which will deliver benefits at virtually zero extra cost. Please don’t hire a social media team – just put about thirty seconds worth of thought and planning into each post. Set commercial goals for social media posts (e.g. growing product recognition, click-throughs to the OLI website, retweets/shares etc), and if the prospective post is not likely to contribute to those goals, then do not post it.
At this early stage in Oliver’s life, my view is the social media goals should be primarily commercial and product/brand recognition in nature – NOT healthcare related. If Oliver’s gets itself set up to a point where it can count on being here for the next 10-15 years (like KFC), then it can look at influencing the national healthcare discussion. However, at this stage my view is that the brand and commercial performance are the overwhelming priority – the company needs to assure it has a commercial future – which implies a need to focus on product recognition and sales.
As a result I call on Oliver’s to sharpen up its social media. I have a list of straightforward, and high ROI suggestions for improvement:
- Type out all posts again on Twitter. Do not just post a link to Facebook posts. All posts need to be fully self-contained on each platform because some people have Twitter and not Facebook, and vice versa. Posts like this are not good for attracting traffic, because people cannot see the content and thus don’t know if the post contains anything interesting: https://twitter.com/oliversrealfood/status/987582537944858624 . As an outsider I suspect that the impact of this tweet on sales and branding is zero, and thus entirely wasted.
- Do not reply to people by tweeting at them. This clutters the OLI feed which should be solely for brand purposes. If Oliver’s must tweet to people, do it by REPLYING to their post, not creating a new tweet for them. E.g. this tweet contains two sins in one: https://twitter.com/oliversrealfood/status/985685003697774593
- Set criteria on what Oliver’s want to achieve with its social media and then cull prospective posts that do not conform to this. Oliver’s shouldn’t use a corporate Twitter account to push a certain view of healthcare on people. What Oliver’s can do is – in a light hearted way – encourage people to be more healthy and provide them with scientific, high quality resources to learn for themselves if they so wish. That said – why read journals about how to be healthy when you can just eat Oliver’s? Additionally, several of Oliver’s products are still high in sugar etc. By posting too much about health, Oliver’s are inviting critical comments from customers or media on the apparent hypocrisy. Please convince customers to eat at Oliver’s and promote the ‘feed your good’ concept without holding the brand up as a paragon of wellbeing. Conceptually speaking, if Oliver’s food is healthy, then convincing people to eat it is a public service – no education required.
- Consider the Oliver’s social media account ‘voice’. For example take this Facebook post:
Consider whether it is ideal for Oliver’s to post in the “CEO Voice”. I think it’s great that OLI staff are meeting people that can inspire or improve the brand. That part isn’t a concern – the concern is that Oliver’s cannot expect 24 million people in Australia to relate to its CEO. A brand voice (Oliver’s) can have more penetration and pull when it comes to targeting customers – specifically because a brand voice takes the humanity out of the equation and simply targets human needs: Do you like fresh delicious food and feeling healthy? Then you’ll like Oliver’s. Contrast this with “Do you like Jason Gunn telling you about fresh delicious food and feeling healthy?” The emotional proposition for a potential customer in the second example is clearly more complex.
I would generally argue that a simpler proposition is almost always more effective, and intuitively I would assume that fewer people can relate to Jason Gunn than can relate to eating well and feeling healthy. That’s not a criticism of Mr Gunn in any way – just a reflection that Australia is diverse and so, presumably, is the clientele at highway rest stops.
Oliver’s doesn’t have to remove the CEO from the advertising – instead the two could work in concert. Some customers like a personal touch, and may respond better to Jason’s more personal approach and ‘championing’ of the healthy lifestyle, while others may find the more generic, overarching Oliver’s brand-voice approach to be more appealing. This way Oliver’s gets two marketing approaches for the price of one, rather than combining the CEO voice and the Oliver’s voice, which is what happens currently. It is my view that the ‘CEO voice’ on the social media feed results in the social media not working as well as it could or should. Plus, now that there is a new CEO – who will tweet? Does the brand identity have to change to reflect the new CEO? You can see the concerns, and this is why I think Oliver’s needs to develop a brand voice for its social media.
- Promote the company in a way that generates specific interest in Oliver’s products. A food company should post about its food. Customers don’t buy; they get sold to. Oliver’s has ample room to start promoting its deals and prices to customers, which is important for making these products part of the consumer psyche. Oliver’s needs to get people thinking specifically about eating Oliver’s, much in the same way as I am thinking about a KFC large popcorn chicken combo with a 600ml Pepsi Max for $14.90 at the moment.
- Use social media to generate general interest in Oliver’s. This is a separate point from promoting specific meals or deals, above. Consider this – name me five Oliver’s Real Food products. Then name me five Subway, McDonald’s, or KFC products. I would bet that Subway recognition > Oliver’s recognition in the wider population. This is a concern because the prospective customer can’t think “gee I’d love to have an Oliver’s pita pocket with a lemongrass lime and bitters Red Dragon Organic”, if the customer doesn’t know that these products exist. Social media is a literally zero cost way to promote the product list, so this channel really needs to be leveraged. Oliver’s also has the option to reach a reasonable number of new customers via paid promotions on Twitter and Facebook.
- Consider using paid social media campaigns to promote Oliver’s, once social media is sharpened up.
Oliver’s may be doing this already (I haven’t been able to see any campaigns) so apologies if this is something that is already in the works. Once social media is sharpened up and commercial posts seem to be working, consider using small paid campaigns to build OLI product awareness. It’s possible to run a decent campaign for minimal cost – a friend of mine that uses Facebook advertising for business recently obtained the following rough quote for me: “a 5-day campaign targeting men aged 35-65 around Australia would get between 12,000-60,000 impressions (appearances in the Facebook feed) per day and cost $1000 total.” There’s plenty of room to fine-tune the targeting to specifically promote new restaurants or new products/deals etc. Shareholders will never notice the cost of a modest social media campaign, but the benefits are potentially sizeable. Oliver’s is only just entering the consciousness of many customers for the first time. A little effort can have a disproportionate benefit if a positive first impression for new customers can be generated.
Given that a very large number of prospective customers probably haven’t encountered Oliver’s yet, it is my view that the company’s public face, advertising, and social media accounts are even more important than they sound on paper.
I have a couple of other suggestions that were borne out of my thoughts on the Oliver’s social media account and my recent store visit.
- Oliver’s should develop a signature dish or two if it has not already. Zinger Burger, Rippa Sub, Big Mac. What is Oliver’s specialty? The beans? Given that I keep a close eye on the Oliver’s Twitter and Facebook feed, I should know what the signature dish/es are – but I don’t.
- Develop meal/ deal promotions and use these to feed the promotional machine at Oliver’s social media. I could not see any ‘combos’ or ‘deals’ in a recent store visit. What should I drink with my toast? As a new customer – and most Oliver’s customers are new ish – it is hard to know what goes well with a meal, if the restaurant doesn’t tell you. This also ties into the idea of whether Oliver’s is a QSR or a Café, which I’ll discuss below. QSR’s are all about meals or combos, whereas cafés appear to have a different modus operandi.
- Use promotions or ‘meals’ to up-sell or cross-sell products with the commercial goal of lifting transaction volumes or spend $ per customer. What are the natural pairings with Oliver’s foods? Oliver’s could create ‘meals’ or ‘combos’ – add a coffee for $4, add an ice cream for $3, etc. By upselling existing customers, Oliver’s avoids incurring the Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) that it ordinarily would if it had to attract a new customer to sell that item to. This means that each new product that an existing customer buys can make the restaurant incrementally more profitable. I expect it would also be possible to increase sales of slower moving or higher margin items via this method.
- Consider developing and testing a store layout over the next year or two, with a view to minimising staff walking distance and improving the speed of service, and eventually standardising this format across multiple stores. Look at Subway, which delegates each part of the meal (initial customer greeting & bread selection, fillings & sauce, cookies & drinks) to different servers, reducing ‘transit’ time. KFC has the vertically stacked heated trays accessible from both sides (kitchen at back, customers at front). Oliver’s can’t necessarily do that but I think there will be meaningful gains to be made in time from standardising the store plan and making it more efficient. All proper fast food restaurants typically split staff between customer service and food production, resulting in faster service. Oliver’s seems more of a ‘café’ setup to me, with the open serving area and the same staff both serving and making food. This is something that management should be aware of, especially if trying to market Oliver’s as more of a quick-service restaurant proposition. I have previously made some comments on potential speed of service issues here.
- Consider the way the business is positioned/presented to customers. Is Oliver’s a QSR like KFC or Subway, or is it more of a café like Gloria Jeans? I have no strong opinion on which would be best, but I think that crystallising the proposition – so that customers know exactly what they’re getting when they go there (QSR or Café?) – would add value over time.
- Develop obsessive attention to detail and focus on small things, like what are the most popular dishes, do vegetarians spend more/less than carnivores, what food/drinks most commonly get paired together – don’t just focus on the store rollout. The board should strongly consider whether adding in some alternative, qualitative metrics in exec compensation such as growth in # of transactions, customer satisfaction, efficiency of marketing spend, would generate better outcomes than just incentivising store openings or hitting earnings targets.
- Clarify the drivers of same store sales (SSS) growth both internally and in market presentations. So far it is unclear as to whether Oliver’s SSS growth is due to higher foot traffic/transaction #s, or higher spend per customer, or price increases, or growing restaurant maturity. I suspect that after price increases and restaurant maturity, transaction numbers are effectively flat. If Oliver’s improves its social media and advertising, it needs to be able to have metrics available to measure its success – e.g. by rising foot traffic, higher average transaction value (higher spend per customer) etc.
- Consider simplifying the menu if necessary to ease supply chain pressure/risk. Oliver’s has a fairly big menu and the logistics of supplying this must be complex – and will likely get worse due to the centralised kitchen as the store network expands. I am not sure where I would start to simplify it, but it is my view that the larger the menu, the harder it is to supply fresh food to a growing number of stores and ensure that food is always fresh when customers ask for it. I would like to see Oliver’s at least consider whether a menu simplification would be beneficial, and/or consider (and explain to the market) if upgrading the central kitchen and distribution capabilities will be necessary. Either way, I feel that the supply chain is crucial to this fresh food business. I would like to ask that Oliver’s present additional, detailed information on its supply chain and kitchen facilities in a future presentation quite soon.
On a separate note, with Oliver’s not being a franchise, I have wondered if there is an internal bias that prevents Oliver’s from aiming to lower its prices. Franchises are always motivated to lower their prices, as this can increase customer #s and grow revenues, despite lower prices. This means lower prices are a winner for the franchise owner because, when revenue rises, the franchise owner (who gets paid a % of revenue) takes a larger cut from the franchisee. Thus a franchise owner is almost always structurally incentivised to lower prices. This is something to consider vis-à-vis Oliver’s competitive position over time. Can Oliver’s withstand competitors continually lowering prices? More pointedly – is a healthy food proposition strong enough to resist competitors continually lowering prices? I have no real view on this either way, and it is not an immediate concern, but something to think about.
One last comment:
I believe that if the above opportunities are apparent to me, a person of no real expertise in the QSR industry, then there are likely several other potentially beneficial ideas lurking in the wings for an industry expert to uncover. Oliver’s has a noted QSR private equity investor on its board, and IOOF Holdings (Perennial) recently took a reasonable stake in Oliver’s. Oliver’s should get in touch with IOOF’s (and other funds) analysts and ask them to visit stores and contribute ideas for lifting foot traffic, speed of service, spend per customer, and all the other things that make a commercial restaurant. A large OLI shareholder would also most likely share their research with management for free if asked. I think this could potentially be a gold mine for identifying good ideas and customer pain points, especially if the analyst is a QSR/café expert.
I think that Oliver’s has a lot of room to sharpen its offering, in a variety of ways, over the coming weeks and years. I think the suggestions that I have made above could add meaningful value at relatively little cost, and I would like to ask that management and the board consider implementing them.
Thank you for your time.
I own shares in Oliver’s Real Foods. This is a disclosure and not a recommendation. I was not remunerated for this presentation in any way, although I do stand to benefit from any increase in the value of the Oliver’s shares that I hold. Full details of my entire Oliver’s holding are at the bottom of this article here.
I gave Oliver’s management the opportunity to review this post before publication. I did not receive a response and thus have not made any changes. The invitation remains open so if Oliver’s wishes to make a response, I will publish that at a later date. This version of the presentation is very slightly different to the one I sent to Oliver’s. I have made some small changes and added a couple of sentences for clarity. Otherwise it is identical.
Maybe should have spent less time trying to help them and more time shorting them…!!
Very well thought out presentation.Ironic that the company now issues another profit downgrade without any seeming strategy for fixing a shaky business model other than store closures [suggesting little thought goes into locations in the first place.]
Thanks Doug. It was irritating, but I think that the store they closed was unquestionably the worst one by my criteria (I keep an eye on these things). It had heaps of local competition & wasn’t attached to a service station so I wasn’t surprised to see it underperform. Overall the rest of the portfolio looks a fair bit better on pape – touch wood!
This is an excellent piece of brand analysis. Well done you.
Thank you! Hopefully somebody over there found it useful.
While Jason is there all your comments will fall on deaf ears. He knows everything you outlined many staff have told him as much many times. He knows best so he thinks.
I wish all my fellow colleagues good luck working for them. I’m so happy i got out. Much more rewarding jobs out there.
Interesting. You’ll be interested to hear that Mr Gunn has stepped down as CEO, and a couple of days ago also retired as an executive director. So as far as I know he doesn’t have much to do with running Oliver’s currently, although he remains a major shareholder. Do you think that with a different CEO, Oliver’s can recover?
Been there 3 times on roadtrips, wife is a massive fan and will eat nowhere else on the road.
With the 4 of us (2 kids aged 5 and 3), I estimate we drop $60 each visit.
New CEO looks great on paper – got the QSR experience and passionate about the brand. Hopefully will cut the BS you have referred to and get back to core principles. Also good that Gunn no longer has any day to day involvement. When founder steps down a clean break required.
The downgrade announcement was reasonably detailed and showed that they are taking the right actions.
I think there is a good chance of the turnaround being successful. Obviously all in the execution and we will get an update with results.
Have you noticed that since you’ve sent this presentation, Oliver’s have improved their Facebook posts?! There’s a very obvious difference. Whether they have replied to you or not, it seems they are listening! Albeit it’s early days, but a good sign. I love your brand analysis and with a marketing background myself I completely agree with your suggestions. Think I’ll invest some $ and see what happens!
I hadn’t checked in a while, but I’ve looked now and they are way better, thanks for pointing that out. Their posts actually make me want to eat Oliver’s now, which is very exciting. I hope that the rest of the business is improving at a similar rate!
This is a great analysis. It is spot on. I agree the the social media posts have become much better especially Instagram in the past 5 to 6 months. I think the major problem with Oliver’s marketing team is that the marketing division is not run by a marketing specialist at all. Oliver’s needs an in house marketing specialist to head the marketing team. It is one of the most important roles at the moment within the business. In my opinion the Marketing/Creative Manager at Oliver’s needs to go and new talent needs to be bought in!
Thanks Christian! Yep I agree, the social media posts have improved infinitely over the past 6 months, although they were initially being done by an external firm and I’m not sure if Oliver’s has brought its social media team in house yet. The CEO seems to have a bunch of good ideas for how to grow the business, so I’m optimistic things can keep improving for Oliver’s. (disclosure: I hold shares)