Business profile... Paolo Peretti, Vital Ingredient

11/02/2016 - 12:18
Vital Ingredient is renowned for serving thousands of combinations of fresh ‘create your own’ salads every day from its 18 sites dotted around the capital. Maria Bracken interviews managing director Paolo Peretti to find out how the business is leading the way in terms of customisation and health.

Vital Ingredient was founded in 2001 by Alex Haynes, a city worker who was disappointed by the lack of fresh food available in the Square Mile in London and decided to do something about it. Inspired by a New York store that displayed hundreds of shiny lettuce-filled plastic bowls and let customers choose exactly what they wanted in their salad, he imported the model into the UK.

Vital now consists of 18 stores, with six more stores planned per year for the next five years; an expansion plan which Peretti believes is more than achievable for the group. “My brief when I joined the company was to make sure we are delivering on our business plan, in terms of the look and feel of the sites, the quality of our food and the marketing. It’s also about giving Vital a bit more of a personality. We know what we stand for and what we look like, but it’s about how we translate this to our customers. And this is the challenge.

“I was also brought in to sail the ship and bring some good people in to work with and get the company to grow again. I think our ambition of growing six stores a year for the next four years is strong, but more than manageable.”

They also have their sights high on locations including hospitals and transport hubs, explains Peretti, who previously worked at travel concession catering experts SSP for over five years. “We are talking to people like Compass and Delaware North at the minute and have offers on four different sites.”

According to Peretti, the secret to success is to have a strong product range which appeals to customers and having that little ‘something’ that sets the brand apart from the rest. This is reflected in Vital’s recent win at the Eat Out Awards, where they scooped the Healthy Eating Award of the year, beating finalists Archie Browns and La Polentaria. Judges found it impressive how Vital has been able to spot a gap in the market and develop the concept so successfully. They also praised it for its provenance.

Peretti says next year is a big one for Vital. “January is our big food launch. At the moment you can grab a wrap from our grab & go counters, but as of January customers can create their own. Other changes to our menu include our hot food offering, which will also allow our customers a similar level of meal customisation that our core salads range offers. We are also looking to introduce seasonal menus four times per year from now on to keep the offer varied and seasonal.”

Customisation also plays a big part in its breakfast offering. “For example, you can have breakfast smoothies, breakfast bowls which you can add your own yoghurt to as well as muffins and toasties…you name it, we have it.”

The group has upped its game in terms of its coffee offering: “We just completed a training programme that means we now have trained baristas in each and every store. We’ve increased the quality of our coffee offer as it’s important to consumers, and is a huge part of our breakfast trade.”

In terms of other menu items, Vital is also looking at launching a range of 10 raw and naked drinks categorised over five main health related functions as well as gluten free cakes.

He says top sellers on the menu have to be their ‘create your own salads’ along with the super cob and nachos grande.

Price wise, Peretti believes they are regionally competitive. “What we serve at any of our Vital stores is a meal, not a snack. You’re not hungry after eating one of our lunches. Average spend for lunch is £7.”

Other big plans for next year include launching a click and collect service for customers, which Peretti says will make the service in-store far more efficient: “Technology is having a huge impact on all areas of the sector and we’re excited to be working on plans for an app. We want to make Vital as convenient for our customers as possible. Those customers who order before 12 will get a discount of 20-25%. This benefits both the consumer and us as it is one less salad we have to make during the lunchtime rush, and it means we can get our customers fed a lot quicker.

 “We have doubled our profits since last year and I believe we can better this next year….watch this space!”

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