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Are you on board with the food revolution? A growing awareness is spreading and the demand for plant based meal options is growing. Studies confirm the link between eating animals, especially processed meat, and the link to cancer and health conditions such as diabetes. Environmental impacts of a meat based diet have been demonstrated, and the ethics behind factory farming are being scrutinized. People are reading labels and choosing organic, non-GMO and local ingredients more often. Copper Branch, a quick serve plant based restaurant, is fulfilling the gap in the food industry and is well timed with this growing lifestyle to ride the wave of popularity and expand across Canada and internationally with their brand. Social media has played a major role in Copper Branch’s business development and continues to help them evolve and tailor menu items to their customers.
Copper Branch opened its first location in Montreal Canada, and has since grown to twelve locations across Quebec and Ontario. By the end of 2017, fifteen locations will be in operation. The first launch outside of Canada will be in the city of Boston, USA. Copper Branch operates under the franchise model, for any curious investors who may be reading this. I was lucky enough to speak with Andrew Infantino, Director of Marketing, who has been with Copper Branch since the early planning stages. During the initial planning and research phase in developing the concept of Copper Branch, Andrew transitioned over to a vegetarian diet. He could no longer ignore the link to diet and health and he states he will never go back to his flesh eating ways. In his own words Andrew states:
To work at Copper Branch it is not a requisite to be vegan per say, because again our mission is more health focused. But I’d say the majority of our team at the very least is very much inspired by the plant based movement and have incorporated a lot more into their diet or have even transitioned into a vegetarian or vegan diet… And so for myself. It has been a journey or stance that I have taken, have held and I think I will hold for the rest of my life.
The founder of Copper Branch is Andrew’s father Rio Infantino. Rio has an extensive 22 year history of work in the fast food industry. He was a multi unit franchise owner before he liquidated his businesses to focus on the concept of Copper Branch, which he launched with a single store in 2013. During his years in the fast food industry he became more aware of the dangers of fast food, and the health conditions it can lead to in one’s body. Copper Branch was the result of a lot of research into the link between food and health, but for Rio it is a success to be serving food that he is proud of – food that provides clean energy to promote a healthy lifestyle. Copper Branch is unique in its offering of clean eating in a quick service environment.
In speaking with Andrew it became clear that values support the business design and future menu development at Copper Branch. Andrew outlined the company’s three main values: plant based, social responsibility and great taste. The option of non-GMO ingredients is unusual in fast food. Copper Branch chooses to use socially responsible ingredients, and locally grown whenever possible. Everything must taste great, and takes inspiration from their master chef.
Social media has been the main marketing outreach method to date, a source of inspiration and outlet to allow them to stay in touch with their customers. Copper Branch is active on several platforms including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and has received a lot of support from the online vegan community.
The vegan community has a large presence on Instagram where the hashtag “vegan” has nearly 50 million posts. The largest segment of the population converting to a plant based diet is the age bracket of 14-34. Some claim that the rise in veganism is attributable to the popularity of social media outlets such as Instagram.
New plant based menu items are added to Copper Branch’s roster every three to four months. Social media comes into play with the decision making and research process for the creation of new dishes. Due to management’s high standard for ingredients, the menu is sometimes limited by what ingredients are available and can easily be sourced. Otherwise, trendy online items such as avocado toast have been recreated in the restaurant. Thousands of beautiful photos of avocado toast appear on Instagram, but as Andrew states:
The vegan community and plant based recipes you see online are incredible. So much inspiration out there. At the same time you see all these wonderful images online and you hope, wish that you can recreate them in the restaurant. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
Recently there has been a debate circulating within the online vegan community. The debate centers on a vegan company called Daiya and the recent partnership with a Japanese company called Otsuka. Daiya was the first on the market to create a tapioca based cheeze that actually melts. Otsuka, a pharmaceutical company, tests on animals; this is a major conflict of interest in the vegan community. A petition has been circulating on Change.org to “Keep Daiya Vegan! Reject the Otsuka Acquisition“. The other side of the argument, in support of Daiya, centers around the great progress this partnership will allow for the spread and creation of new vegan products. As a wise vegan (a good friend of mine) once said, “As vegans we will often eat vegan food from companies that also make non vegan items like potato chips. So where do you draw the line?”
The use of Daiya cheeze at Copper Branch in their delicious baked poutine has not gone unnoticed by the vegan community.
Yes we do have some backlash to a certain degree, obviously nothing huge. But it is something we do take seriously and we want to make the appropriate changes. At the end of the day whatever is the best for our people and if the alternative doesn’t hurt and definitely improves we are open to that.
Many will consider this a positive change to the menu at Copper Branch; consumers will be happy to see that voicing their concerns does have an impact. Copper Branch has been experimenting with a few cheeze alternatives, including the brands called Sheeze and Earth Island. Speaking with Andrew, the latter seems most likely. Customers can look forward to these changes being implemented in the store shortly.
Lessons for Others
Copper Branch provides a positive example of the use of social media as a feedback mechanism in its product development. They also demonstrate a growth mindset, as they are always looking to improve on everything they do in store and with their marketing focus. Andrew acknowledges the power of social media and uses it in search of new menu ideas and to stay connected to the response of their customers. With their values in mind they are always looking to partner with new vegan companies that are held in high regard by the vegan community. Members of the vegan community who are considered influencers are often involved in the promotion of new products online. Visuals are very important in social media, particularly in mediums such as Instagram. Copper Branch is looking to continue to improve in this area by working with great audio visual teams and photographers. Their locations are well decorated by interior designer Maria Deschamps which provides a more upscale feel than your traditional quick service restaurant. The pretty decor and art likely leads to more customer photos being shared online, I know this is the case for myself.
Responding to customers’ ideas, comments, complaints and feedback in general is a full time job. As Copper Branch constantly receives emails and online comments, time is required to funnel down and decide which are the best ideas, and at the end of the day, what is feasible to implement. Due to their size, they are limited in the speed that they are able to make changes, which may appear as a non response to customers who want to see changes to their brand.
Cheers to Copper Branch’s continued success and growth both domestically and internationally. Don’t let the terms “plant based” and “vegan” scare you – the food is delicious.
Click here to find a location in your area.
Industry: quick service restaurant
Name of Organization Contact: Andrew Infantino Director of Marketing and Brand Management
Authored by: Kimberly Barrett
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