The “big idea” of a MISA alum in 2015: Flower Burger, an all-veggie burger chain, already has 15 restaurants in Europe and counting, and is ready to hop the pond and open in California.
It took some time, but in the end he came up with his big idea. Matteo Toto, a 2009 alum of MISA (Master in Entrepreneurial Strategy offered by SDA Bocconi) opened Flower Burger in 2015, a restaurant chain serving all-veggie burgers.
“During a trip to Poland,” remembers Matteo, “I came across a tiny veggie burger stand. The line outside was so long it was practically impossible to get inside. I’ve always been a foodie and I thought that Milan would be the perfect city to open my own place, serving 100% vegan gourmet burgers, a concept that still didn’t exist in the city.”
Today Flower Burger counts 15 restaurants, with three owner-operated locations in Milan. The other 12 are franchised, with two of those located abroad (Marseilles and London). From 2016 to 2019 Flower Burger has enjoyed a steady annual growth rate of 15%, with turnover at 3.8 million euro.
“Much of what I’ve achieved, I owe to MISA and the advice I got from my instructors at SDA Bocconi. I’ve never stopped pestering them, even years after I graduated,” Matteo remembers with a laugh. “[It was] the most important help I got in building the overall vision of my business, and framing a perspective that could encompass all the moving parts that make up an entrepreneurial venture: from the customer target to the value proposition to, in my case, the physical structure of the stores.”
Flower Burger’s biggest claim to fame is making vegan food appealing, interesting, which it certainly wasn’t before. Colored burgers, high quality products, restaurants with psychedelic pop décor – these were the keys to unlocking such a tough market which is food. And these are the signature elements that have enabled Flower Burger to reach all kinds of consumers. Only 10% of the veggie burger chain’s customers are actually vegans or vegetarians; the vast majority are simply people who are curious, who like the idea of having a healthy, sustainable food option, one that’s entirely plant based.
But the success of Flower Burger also lies in the company’s business model. The owner-operated stores, the franchised stores, and the production lab for sandwiches and burgers that supplies all the branded restaurants are the three business units that generate three different revenue streams. What’s more, thanks to the Buono Ventures fund, which invested 3.5 million euro in Flower Burger in 2020, an international expansion phase is underway that will culminate in six new locations in Europe and a ghost kitchen in California by year’s end 2021.
The past year has been a difficult one, with serious repercussions on the restaurant industry, which more than many others has felt the impact of the lockdown. “No point in denying it,” Matteo says. “Turnover has dropped, that’s true. But thanks to takeaway and deliver, a new app and a some targeted marketing campaigns – for instance the pink Barbie Burger we launched with Mattel – we’ve limited our losses. If delivery made up 10-15% of the average daily sales for a location, during the pandemic this number was up to nearly 50-60%. It’s a reality we have to deal with, but we can’t forget that once things get back to normal, people will want to go out again, and they’ll come back to eat in our restaurants. That’s why we’re working on opening new ones, thinking about the future and working as if the pandemic were already over.”