(Image Source: https://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2014/07/28/clover-food-lab-secret-ingredient-data-lots/JvSdzaodIny9A6xQzYdrPL/story.html)
Clover Food Lab, a Boston-based fast-casual restaurant and foodtruck chain, was founded with the mission to reduce meat consumption by offering delicious, healthy vegetarian meals in convenient settings to change what carnivores eat. By linking their business and operational models tightly, Clover is able to execute on its promise and drive superior customer loyalty: “…90 percent of first-timers return within four weeks and 1 in 4 customers visits more than once a day.” 1
Customer Promise & Business Model
There are three main aspects of Clover’s business model that drive such strong customer loyalty:
- Delicious, healthy food – “When people go to Clover, they don’t expect the same burger and fries, they expect good food.”3 Ayr Muir, Clover’s co-founder, describes “clean flavors”2 as the defining feature of the restaurant’s food philosophy. This means simple, delicious meals cooked from scratch (Clover only uses pre-packaged ketchup and mayo ingredients).
- Fast, convenient service – At Clover, the lines move fast and customers never have to wait long for their order. Muir notes that Clover is “obsessed with speed”, with average service times of 3.5 minutes, just a bit longer than at McDonald’s.2 If something goes wrong, the staff goes out of their way to help and Muir is known for issuing public apologies on his blog (most recently, he expressed regret over a “really screwed up” Broccoli Strawberry sandwich4).
- Social mission – Clover is a mission-driven organization. Beyond helping the environment through reducing meat consumption, the restaurant also wants to support the communities it operates in by sourcing local ingredients,1 raising employee minimum wage and engaging its customers in every major decision (such as new menu offerings).5
Muir notes that “the way we operate is unheard of in our industry”.2 Every aspects of the operating model, from recipe development to supply chain management, have been designed to ensure the customer promise described above is fulfilled.
(Image Source: http://www.confessionsofachocoholic.com/healthy/clover-now-open-in-harvard-square)
Clover uses a crowdsourcing process to generate ideas and select new recipes for its restaurants. In addition to online idea submissions page, the restaurant also hosts public Food Development Meetings every Tuesday, where customers and Clover staff can present new recipes for evaluation.3 Attendees, including Muir, provide feedback and the best ones move on to further rounds of evaluations and pilots, before finally being incorporated into the menu.
However, existing menu items are still closely monitored and updated based on customer feedback. The iconic chickpea fritter sandwich recipe has been updated over 30 times since it was first introduced 7 years ago.3
This crowdsourced, iterative and test-driven approach to recipe development ensures the continuous improvement of the menu and high customer engagement, setting Clover apart from its competitors.
To ensure “clean flavors”, the staff prepares all recipes from scratch. Everything is extremely fresh – they do not use preservatives or even freezers and make sure to cut the ingredients as close to the consumption time as possible.2
As a result, the menu is small, changes frequently based on available ingredients and items occasionally run out. “We choose to run out”2 says Muir – an unavoidable consequence of being uncompromising on food freshness and quality.
Supply Chain Management
Clover sources 40-85% of ingredients locally 2 to further support their social mission and “keep your money in your region”, as well as ensure “clean flavors” and fresh ingredients. Over time, Clover has developed close relationships with distributors and suppliers, enabling the team to be even more discerning about which ingredients to offer when.
Technology is paramount to achieve superior customer service and high employee wages. Trainings are offered via Youtube, shifts are scheduled through a cloud-based system, customer orders are taken by iPhone and plants water themselves (to save employees time).1
Gathering and analyzing feedback to improve operations is also of great importance at Clover. “Almost anything that happens at Clover is gauged, tracked, and beamed through the cloud to management in real time”1. Clover analyzes over 3,000 comments a month, gathering data during order processing, as well as through customer surveys, Twitter, Yelp and Facebook.3 This data is used to measure how well the company is tracking against its customer promise and allows management to make changes if any gaps are identified.
Muir has grand growth aspirations: “I think we should be as big as McDonald’s one day”.3 But Clover works because of the tight link between the business and operating models. Whether this link can be replicated on a national, or even international, scale remains to be seen.