Mrs Fields’ brand refresh sweetens retail

By Sarah Stowe | 29 Oct 2015 View comments

Over the last three years Mrs Fields has worked to incorporate its tagline ‘Moments made better’ into the business, with a total makeover of the stores, redesigned packaging, new equipment and enhanced menus. So how has it shaped up for the cookie retailer?

Andrew Benefield, managing director, says “We’ve done extensive market research into what our customers want, what works, what doesn’t work and we’ve compiled all the feedback, the results speak for themselves.”

When it came to the question, what does Mrs Fields mean to Australian consumers, what the food franchise discovered was that customers saw a mismatch between stores and the brand story: although the brand promoted a home-baked concept, and customers loved the influences of comfort and quality, the stores’ red and white colourway and boxy layout with glass and granite was viewed as clinical.

How did the company take the feedback? "We ate humble pie” says Benefield.

But the team also addressed the issue and now the store d_cor is developed around brick and timber and finishes “that stand the test of time”.

“A lot of cafes are on trend but it’s not long before they become off trend,” he adds.

From the early days of roll-out the new look has delivered sales growth and attracted new customers in-store.

The aim was always to develop a franchise model that would be sustainable, and that meant keeping costs reasonable.

“We couldn’t lose sight of what the end investment would be for the franchisee,” says Benefield.

Customer tastes

A new menu has been designed to address the changing snacking trends of the Australian consumer with stores opening at 8am remaining open later to match longer shopping centre hours.

The product line-up includes the re-emergence of popular flavours and some new tastes.

Benefield says “We have over 50 potential new products in development, and while many may not make it to market the most successful are often the old favourites, with a twist that meets a current trend."

What the business isn’t doing is heading down the route to a full service food offering.

“We’re still about the cookie but giving franchises something to sell right through the day, and giving diversity. We do recognise that not everyone in a group will want a cookie.

“We still pitch ourselves as a spot to stop for 15 minutes, have a coffee and a snack, and continue on shopping. Full service cafes offer light meals and a 30 minute sit. More and more brands are chasing this space and I think they may live to regret it. The more complexity in the offer, the more labour is generally required," says Benefield.

“It may be a while off yet but interest rates will go up and disposable income will tighten.”

Opportunities to buy a franchise

The conversion of Cookie Man stores bought by Mrs Fields has been running alongside the new look rollout.

This year the remaining 12 Cookie Man stores scheduled to convert will be rebadged to the Mrs Fields brand. There will also be another four brand new locations in the network, bringing the store count to 50, with a goal of 90 outlets by 2025.

The brand is under-represented in South Australia, poised to sign its first Canberra franchise, and in-filling other areas around the country.

This slow-burn expansion is realistic, Benfield believes. Ninety stores is enough of a challenge when retail costs and locations are so competitive, he says.

“The downside of being a snack business is that locations do require huge traffic counts.”

Alternative locations such as Sydney airport and a few transport locations can work well for the cookie chain, he says.

“What we won’t do is just open a location for the sake of it. It’s about getting the financials right.”