We’re not going anywhere.
But there are a lot of things that will have to change to make that statement fact. I thought I’d share with you all what I see in our future, and how it will impact the full community that has allowed Clover Food Lab to exist, our customers, our employees, our suppliers, our financial backers, and our landlords.
I don’t have a crystal ball. But I’ve been listening, processing, and imagining the future since early January. Here I will share my best current thinking. I’m not an epidemiologist. These are my clearest thoughts based on what I understand about my business and the future we face. I’m sure I’ll look back in a few months and some of this will seem like clairvoyance, while other items might seem silly. I guess that’s the risk of imagining the future…
Our mission hasn’t changed. We want to help meat lovers fall in love with vegetables.
Today we face the global challenge of COVID-19. This might not be fun to hear, but it’s likely we will face other pandemics in the future, perhaps more deadly than this one that is here today. And we know with certainty that we’re on a path to a much larger existential threat. If we don’t change our daily activities we will undoubtedly end up in a hotter world. By almost all predictions the impact of that, while in the future and spread over more time, will dwarf the impact we are facing today with COVID.
Clover was started to help people make the change to a more sustainable diet exciting, nutritious, fun, and delicious.
Expect Clover to approach re-opening with caution. We’re not going to fire up our restaurants until we feel in our hearts that it’s the right timing for the safety of our customers and our employees. We will rely on facts, not hype. This might mean you have to wait longer than you’d like for a Clover breakfast sandwich and a George Howell coffee.
We’ve been a restaurant company for almost 8 years (for our first 4 years we had fun as a “food truck” company).
On March 9th 2020 we became a food company.
The Chickpea Fritter will return. Our restaurants will return and expand. But in addition to that we’ll be finding ways to impact food systems and customers and build revenues in other avenues.
Expect Clover cookbooks and media content
Expect the Clover Farm Share program to expand and become more important than ever
Expect to be cooking at home from Clover recipes, using ingredients we’ve helped connect you to
Expect Clover at your home in the form of pantry boxes etc.
Expect to find Clover helping fight food insecurity in our communities
Expect to find Clover at your favorite grocery or convenience store
Without the wonderful folks who work at Clover we wouldn’t exist. This company has been built by hard work and personal sacrifice that has come from many people.
We’re going to make decisions about the months ahead with their interests at the fore. I can speak to how we’ll approach those decisions, but it’s difficult right now to project what all of those decisions will look like.
Clover Guides — we love you and remain committed to the beautiful interactions you bring to our community. We’ll have to figure out what your role looks like going forward. But your talents are still very important to us, even if orders are moving digital.
Expect Clover to return to business with industry-leading pay rates (as we provided in the past).
Expect Clover to find a way to collect tips, even though most customers will not be eating in our restaurants for while.
Expect Clover to be unable to hire all 300-odd employees back day 1. Our return to business will be staggered over time.
People haven’t stopped eating. What we eat and where it comes from has changed, and likely will never return to the way it once way pre-COVID.
Pre-COVID Americans ate approximately 50% of meals out of home. I expect we will return to that number, and even surpass it at some point in the future. But in the meantime we’re all eating at home.
Expect Clover to offer pantry boxes that will allow you to enjoy the food you love from Clover, at a very economically compelling price point. We know many of our customers were brown baggers pre-COVID, and we’ve always taken pride in that. Let’s all rally around home cooking. I’ve started an online cooking show meant for all of you: www.inayrskitchen.com and www.youtube.com/inayrskitchen
Expect Clover to offer the meals you love. But you may find restrictions that weren’t there before, e.g., fewer items on the menu, limited hours of pick-up, etc. We’re moving away from the on-demand food world we were starting to expect. I for one think that’s great.
Expect to find Clover items in grocery and convenience store channels. No, you’re not going to get a Chickpea Fritter in the freezer section, but we would love to sell our bread, fresh hummus, and other items to you in the places you shop.
We may not be able to maintain our commitment to 100% compostable packaging. That commitment made sense when we collected all of the waste. But most of our customers don’t have access to commercial composting facilities, so I’m not sure this will be the best choice when 100% of our food waste is being dealt with outside of our restaurant walls. We’ll be doing our best to use 100% post consumer recycled materials, but from past experience that’s been hard to get for every product.
I expect prices will go up, not just at Clover but throughout our industry. That might sound funny to you. But I don’t see another way that the economics work.
Landlords and rents
We spend a lot of money building restaurants so that we can sell food. At Clover pre-COVID our sales were 60% take-out, 39% eat in, <1% delivery. Opening restaurants is our primary method of growing our company scale and impact.
Most restaurants spend between 10-20% of total sales in occupancy costs. Those costs are fixed. So if our sales decline substantially that percentage quickly overwhelms our business.
We cannot pay rent for periods where we could not make sales
We need to move to percentage rents
We need a period to restore business
None of our landlords will like any of these changes. But not making these changes means marching towards bankruptcy, which is in nobody’s best interest.
I expect we will open up delivery. But I think we will price the cost of delivery into that service. It’s now widely known that delivery companies such as DoorDash, UberEats, Caviar, and others charge restaurants 30-35% of the sale price of the item for the delivery service.
Restauranteurs looked the other way when delivery was a small percentage of total sales. But if we’re aiming to sell a large amount of our food via delivery we won’t survive with that cost structure.
Expect to receive a “30% discount” to pick up your food at one of our stores. I don’t really mean that prices can magically decline. But prices will go up for delivery. And relatively speaking they will be lower for pick-up.
Our suppliers will do best when we’re selling the most food. In the meantime we have been and will continue to spend major effort connecting our customers to our suppliers directly. Please support them. They help make our business possible, but they also help make our communities more healthy and more fun and they enrich the soils of New England.