Zambrero founder, Dr Sam Prince, has combined a successful business strategy with humanitarian goals to build a fast casual franchise that provides meals for those in need while influencing Australians' eating out habits.
“My mother came from a poor Sri Lankan community but against all odds, and with extremely limited finances, she became a successful university graduate. I grew up trying to absorb my mother’s commitment to education and helping those less fortunate than herself,” Dr Sam Prince, founder of Zambrero, told Hospitality magazine.
“With a medical background as a doctor I am particularly passionate about the health sector, both in the developed and developing world. Tackling world hunger and access to quality education underline my business philosophy and goals: to provide infrastructure and opportunities to disadvantaged people across the globe and to empower them through good health and quality education.
“I had previously done some work in the developing world though my ‘E-magine’ foundation, which provided IT facilities to schools. However, it became quite clear that whilst education was suffering in these countries children were suffering more from malnutrition, preventing them from taking advantage of an education.”
The idea for Zambrero was born from this realisation, with Prince deciding to fight food insecurity with food itself.
“I started Zambrero when I was 21 and studying medicine. We opened the first restaurant in 2005 in Canberra and it was my way of combining entrepreneurship with my humanitarian goals,” he said.
“Through the Plate4Plate initiative, for every burrito or bowl purchased at Zambrero, a meal is donated to someone in need in the developing world via our distribution partner Stop Hunger Now. Stop Hunger Now packs and distributes food to countries where many do not have access to adequate nutrition, primarily through school feeding programs. As of the first week of August we’ve donated over 9.5 million meals.”
Sam Prince, founder Zambrero
The right model
Although Plate4Plate tackles malnutrition in the developing world, Prince was equally concerned by the lack of quick, healthy options available to Australians.
“With so many Australians visiting fast food chains I thought it was important to offer a healthy alternative. The quick service sector offers the most opportunity to influence people’s attitude to food and regular eating out habits,” he said.
The quick service sector also provided the best platform to combine entrepreneurship with humanitarian goals.
“It’s a dynamic environment that allows for rapid expansion, which is vital to the success of my mission to serve fresh healthy Mexican food and help beat world hunger,” said Prince.
This natural dynamism is only strengthened when combined with a franchise model.
“A franchise model gives you the ability to expand and deliver an offering that works for each region and location by working with a greater number of individuals, who are heavily invested in the success of their particular franchise.
“There are some challenges with messaging and getting through to all team members but these can be solved and prevented with the right business strategy, team and management. Choosing the right franchisees, who fit with the company’s values, and the right executive team to provide the leadership and commitment is essential.
“We partner with Development Agents across Australia who act locally within the communities to source top quality franchise partners and locations for our restaurants. This way the brand can provide franchisees with a great support system from the very beginning of their journey and then continue to provide ongoing local support for their businesses,” said Prince.”
“We work with our franchisees as partners rather than employing a hierarchal structure and we encourage owners to inject their local community knowledge into the business.”
Besides the more general challenge of operating in the fast casual space, offering Mexican presents specific challenges of its own.
“The quality and freshness of ingredients required to make authentic, healthy and delicious Mexican food needs to be superb, because the dishes leave very little room to hide,” Prince said.
“This means the investment in the raw ingredients tends to be higher and preparation time often outweighs that of your average quick service restaurant. At Zambrero we hand make our guacamole fresh onsite every day and slow cook our meats, sourced from Australian quality producers, for up to 18 hours with carefully selected herbs, spices and chilies to extract maximum flavour and tenderness.”
There’s a silver lining though.
“Mexican cuisine has a lot of potential to pack in the flavour and offer something very different from the average fast food offering. We’re able to provide a variety of healthy and flavourful dishes, while catering to a range of dietary needs.
“In Australia catering to dietary needs should no longer be an afterthought or add on, it should be a part of the menu. All of our menu items can be made vegan or vegetarian and adapted to suit a range of dietary needs.”
It’s no longer just about dietary requirements for a small percentage of the population. Health trends have evolved considerably in the decade since the first Zambrero opened.
“We have seen a lot of trends with superfoods and customers wanting to maximise nutrition within the proportion that they eat. Our healthy IQ range and powerbowl are particularly popular as they are packed full of flavour and nutrition,” said Prince.
The increasing interest in health food trends hasn’t been to the detriment of old school options.
“Our classic range continues to be our best seller.”
More than a money making machine
Prince believes that building social responsibility into the core of a business will benefit the bottom line.
“With corporate social responsibility as a core part of the business, rather than just an ‘add on’ we attract certain type of franchisee, who already has a firm understanding and commitment to corporate social responsibility. This has definitely helped increase our staff retention, as team members don’t just want a temporary role in fighting world hunger, they see what we do and want to become part of the long term solution.
“Our objective is to end world hunger and to do this we need to attract as many customers as possible, and sell as many burritos or bowls. This correlates with our ability to generate profit. Whilst it is no easy feat, being transparent, accountable and highly structured gives us the foundation to simultaneously generate profit and beat world hunger.
It’s a model that Prince would like to see more Australian quick service restaurants adopt.
“There is no one size fits all way of doing this type of ‘one for one’ humanitarian practice so I believe it can be adapted to suit a range of business of different sizes. That being said a business with multiple outlets across Australia has a greater natural ability to effect change as there is more opportunity to engage local communities to join the cause,” he said.
“While Zambrero was the first restaurant in Australia to offer this type of initiative we’re not protective with the concept. Zambrero has proven a business and humanitarian marriage can be a successful, profitable and long lasting one. QSR restaurants have the resources and power to make a real difference.”
At a Glance
When was the business established? The first Zambrero restaurant opened in Braddon, Canberra in 2005.
Number of locations? More than 120 stores in Australia with another 13 internationally in Thailand, New Zealand and most recently Ireland.
Number of staff members? We have approximately 2000 employees across the whole Zambrero family
Most valuable asset in the business? Our people, every member of the Zambrero family and network is vital in creating healthy and delicious quick serve Mexican food whilst tackling world hunger.
Plans for 2016? Continued expansion in Australia, opening one restaurant a week in 2016 which will give us a total of 150 by the end of the year. Our annual Plate 4 Plate meal packaging event day is coming up on 21 October.